Search Strategies


Before Going Online, Prepare!
  1. Formulate your search topic without being too broard or narrow. Be sure to consider if there are any time, geographic, or population components when describing your topic.
  2. Identify the individual key concepts that describe your topic.
  3. Identify the various search terms within each concept and be sure to think of relevant synonyms and alternate terms or spelling.
  4. Identify the appropriate search tool(s). Do you need a general or subject specific database? A statistical database?
  5. Adjust the strategy based on the results and always be flexible.
  6. Ask a reference librarian for help!

Keyword Searching

Keyword searching is a quick and easy way to get started in any database. Using your own terminology, just enter your search term(s) in the search boxes.
Combing two or more different concepts can be connected in one search box using the word AND
  • [Lead and Exposure]
Related or synonymous terms can be connected in one search box using the word OR
  • [diabetes type 2 or diabetes type II or type 2 diabetes or type II diabetes].

Truncation: *?!+$#

Truncation uses the addition of a symbol (or a wildcard) at the end of a word to replace possible endings of that word. You can use this strategy to get more results than you would if you only searched one term. The symbol can vary from database to database, so be sure to look in the database's help screen to confirm which symbol is used. Most of the time it will be one of the following symbols: *  ?  !  +  $  #

Truncating comput* retrieves: computer, computers, computing, compute, computes, ….. etc.

Truncating theat* retrieves: theatre, theater

Combing Concepts

Here is a link to our great guide on how to combine search terms using Boolean Logic.

Refining Your Search

Databases offers a variety of options for you to choose from to limit or narrow your search results. This is especially useful if you start with a broad search and get hundreds of results. Some databases offer dozens of options whereas others offer only a few ways to limit your results, but some of the most common limits are:

Thesaurus Searching

One of the most useful features in a databases is the thesaurus. Searching the thesaurus finds the authorized subject terms allowing you to find the best articles on a particular topic. This powerful method of searching will retrieve articles whose primary focus is a particular topic, eliminating articles whose titles or abstracts merely mention that topic which can often happen in keyword searching. The steps for searching a thesaurus will vary from database to database, but here are some generic steps that should be employable in most databases.

Step 1: Select "Thesaurus" (AKA Subject Terms; Topics, MeSH; and CINAHL Headings) on the navigation tool bar and enter one concept in the search box.

Step 2: Examine the list of approved subject headings and select the best term. If your concept is not used by the thesaurus, you will be referred to the most appropriate term.
Note: If you’re not sure which is the best term to select, read the "scope" or definition to help you decide.

Step 3
: Click on a term to get detailed information and more options for narrowing or broadening your

Step 4:
Search the term(s) in the database once you're ready and begin appraising your results for the best citations.

Contact Us

Picture: Jim Bondra
Business Librarian
(607) 274-1962
Picture: John Henderson
Social Sciences Librarian
(607) 274-1961
Picture: Laura Kuo
Health Sciences Librarian
(607) 274-1197

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