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What to Put in a Search Box

Strategies for efficient searching.

In This Guide


Using quotation marks, truncation symbols, and parentheses with Boolean operators will make it easier to find what you are looking for. Explore the three boxes below to learn more.

Phrases - Quotation Marks

Phrases are two or more words adjacent to one another. Use phrase searching only when a concept must be represented by a specific phrase. In each of these examples, separating the words changes the meaning, so use quotation marks to search as a phrase.


  • "social media"
  • "Bristol Bay"
  • "video games"

In the first example, a source could contain the words social and media without being about social media. If you didn't use quotation marks, you could get many irrelevant results because most databases automatically put a Boolean AND between your search terms.

Beware of including more than one concept in a phrase. Instead of "violence in video games" search "video games" AND violence. For more help on identifying concepts, visit the Choosing Keywords guide.

Truncation Symbols

Truncation, also called stemming, is a technique that broadens your search to include multiple word endings.

To truncate, put the truncation symbol at the end of the root word. Generally, databases use the asterisk/star symbol *. If the asterisk doesn't seem to work, check the help link in the database you are using or ask a librarian.


  • child* = child, children, childhood, childish.
  • genetic* = genetic, genetics, genetically.
  • bank* = bank, banks, banker, banking, bankruptcy.

Grouping - Parentheses

If you use more than one type of Boolean operator -- most commonly AND with OR -- use parentheses to group similar concepts or synonyms together into a search string.


  • ("social media" OR Facebook OR Twitter) AND privacy
  • "Bristol Bay" AND (conservation OR preservation)
  • "video games" AND (child* OR teen* OR "young adult")

You can enter this kind of search string directly into most databases.

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Creative Commons NonCommercial license - Wikipedia

This work by the Consortium Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License and is based on MIT Libraries' Database Search Tips (CC-BY-NC). Note that linked content is covered by its own licenses.

We encourage you to license your derivative works under Creative Commons as well to encourage sharing and reuse of educational materials.

Guide Owner

This guide is maintained by D'Arcy Hutchings.