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The Research Process: Keywords and Searching Techniques

This guide is created to help students through the steps of writing a research paper or project.

Time to put that list of keywords to use in a search. 

First, take a quick look at the following video which demonstrates the basics of searching in a scholarly database. 

Expanding Your Keyword Search

Databases search for the exact term you enter, sometimes you may need to use synonyms to help expand the search. 

• Let's use the research question: 

        What are the effects of plastic particle water pollution on humans and marine wildlife?

        Keywords = effects, water pollution, humans, plastic particle, marine wildlife

• If need be, widen your search by using synonyms or related terms: 

           effects or influence;    pollution or contamination;    humans or people

OR Boolean search image


When you find an article, you can use subject terms to help find more articles. 

article title image

Look for the subject terms list to add additional keywords to your search. 

subject terms image

Search Tips

Boolean - when you use a Boolean search, keywords are combined by the operators AND, OR, and NOT.
You can use these operators in the database search interface to create a very broad or very narrow search.

  • And combines search terms so that each search result contains all of the terms. For example, piano and keyboard finds articles that contain both piano and keyboard. 
  • Or combines search terms so that each search result contains at least one of the terms. For example, piano or keyboard finds results that contain either piano or keyboard.
  • Not excludes terms so that each search result does not contain any of the terms that follow it. For example, piano not keyboard finds results that contain piano but not keyboard.

image Venn diagrams


Be aware:  In many, but not all, databases, the AND is implied.

• For example, Google automatically puts an AND in between your keywords.
• Though all your search terms are included in the results, they may not be connected together in the way you want.
• For example, this search:   college students test anxiety   is translated to:   college AND students AND test AND anxiety. The word may appear individually throughout the resulting records.

You can search using phrases to make your results more specific.

• For example:  "college students" AND "test anxiety". This way, the phrases show up in the results as you expect them to be. 


Proximity Search - enables you to search for two or more words that occur close to one another in a database.

N or near operator with a number between the search terms will find the words that are near each other regardless or the order they are in. For example, music N4 appreciation will return both music appreciation and appreciation of music.

W or within operator with a number between the search terms will find the words that are within the number and in the exact order. For example, music W4 appreciation will return results with the words music appreciation in that order only

You may change or adjust the number operators to tighten or broaden a search.

Truncation Symbols - use this search option when unsure of spelling or various endings to words. 

An asterisk * is used as a filler for letters within words. Enter the root of the search term and replace the ending with an , for example, search* will result in searching or searches. 

Wildcards - use this option when you need to find words with alternate spelling.

Use the pound sign # as a wildcard, enter your search terms, adding the # in places where an alternate spelling may contain an extra character. For example, type lab#r to retrieve, labor or labour, another example is, theat# to retrieve, theater or theatre. 

Quotation Marks - use this option when you want to search exact phrases.

Enclose your search terms with "quotation marks" to find words in the exact order as typed. For example, typing "social media" will return articles with that exact phrase. 

Searching Databases

Additional help is available with this Searching Databases library guide. 

Quick Tip

The references used by the author in an article or book you're already using is a great place to find additional resources for your project!

Accessing Databases

Access is available to students on all SRC campuses and from off campus with your library card number found on the back of your student ID card. When prompted for this number be sure to use a capital D and your digits with no spaces in between, for example D8692xxxxx.

Students can obtain their SRC ID card at the following sites:
* Canton: LRC – 2nd Floor Centers Building
* Macomb: LRC - 2nd Floor
* Havana: Front Desk
* Rushville: Front Desk