Constructing Search Statements

Your first step in search construction is to identify the right terms or phrases for your search topic. List the terms that describe each of the main concepts of your topic.

For example, if your topic is the influence of gender on communication in the workplace, the main concepts are:

  1. gender
  2. communication
  3. workplace

Next, for each concept identify synonyms or related terms to use in your search statements, such as women or woman for gender; conversation or interaction for communication and job(s) or office for workplace.

Each database we use, including library catalogs, online research databases or search engines has its' own unique characteristics but they all also share basic search strategy formats and special search characters or labels which you need to know to get the best search results.

The following chart shows a variety of search statements using search operators such as AND, OR and NOT and other special search characters and explains why we use these types of searches and what results to expect.

To Search for Use Example Results
Subject information Any word or words communication Many records
All words in result AND Communication AND gender AND workplace Fewer records containing ALL words
One or both words OR Language OR Grammar Records containing either language or grammar or both
  NOT Energy NOT nuclear Records containing the word energy but not nuclear
Exact phrases " " "substance abuse" Records with both terms in this exact order
Plurals + Computer+ finds terms with various endings:computer, computers, computer's etc.
Truncation * Comput* Computers, computing, computer-aidedn etc. This may result in too many terms unless search is combined with other concepts to narrow the search
Variants or part of a word # or ? Comput###
Computers, computing. Finds exactly 3 characters after Comput Color, Colour, finds up to 1 character
Words near each other in the order given W Patient w2 record Patient followed within 2 words by record
Words near each other in any order N Patient n3 record Patient and record within 3 words of each other, in any order
Complex Searches Parenthesis( ) (California or Alaska) and "sealevel rise" Nesting of terms to be treated the same way

Other Resources: