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Education Research Methods

Help with doing more sophisticated research for upper division undergraduates as well as graduate school students.

  Search Strategies and Techniques

Key Concepts or "Main Idea" Words  (Click here for tutorial)

Identify the main idea words in your research question or topic and use them as your search terms. Always avoid searching with long phrases of unrelated words.  For example:

What are the affects of high stakes testing on disabled students?

The key concepts or main idea words ae underlined for this research question. Main Idea Words describe your topic even when taken out of the context of your phrase. The other words in the phrase (for example: effects, what, and are) do not describe the topic by themselves. To find the most relevant results in any search, only use words that describe your topic.


Use quotes around multiple words or short common phrases representing one concept. Remember, the first step of searching is to avoid using long phrases with unrelated words. So only use quotes around multiple words expressing a single concept.

classroom management"

Using quotes around "classroom management" will force the search engine to look for the two words near one another in the database record. Using quotes around phrases will NARROW your search, bringing back fewer, (often) more focused, results.


Different authors use different words to describe the same thing. It is very important to search using synonyms (different words describing the same concept) in multiple searches in order to explore all the results that fit your topic.

"classroom management"
AND secondary students
"behavior modification" AND high school

"classroom management" AND secondary students
"behavior modification" AND high school

Both classroom management and behavior modification are different phrases describing a similar concept, so using both terms in your searches will BROADEN your search to retrieve items that use either phrase to describe this concept.

Using AND, Using OR

Combine your key concepts using AND
"classroom management" AND secondary students
Using AND narrows your results, to find only the results with both key concepts.

Expand your key concepts by using OR
"secondary" OR "high school"
Using OR broadens your results, to find all results that have either concept. This is a helpful technique when there are different words or phrases that are both commonly used to describe similar ideas.

Truncation Symbols * ? $

Since different authors use different words, it is often important to explore all forms of the word.

 retrieves only the word with that exact spelling. 
Testing would not include:

Using a truncation symbol allows you to include all forms of a word.
test* retrieves all the forms of that word, including:

Be very careful! It is easy to truncate too soon and retrieve too many forms of the word that do not apply. For example, if you search photo* for the concept of photography, you may accidentally retrieve unrelated words like photosynthesis and photon in addition to words you intended, like photographer and photographs.

Most databases use the * for a truncation symbol. However, sometimes they will use other symbols, such as the $ or ? for trucation. (Our library's book catalog, for example, uses the $).

Use this tool, created by the University of Arizona Libraries to help you create search strings for your topic:

Subject Guide

Jennifer McKay