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How to Search for Sources and Manage Them

How to develop a search strategy

Search Techniques

Gain in efficiency by searching the open Web, library catalogues and databases in a structured manner:

  • Exploit the boolean operators: AND, OR, NOT
    e.g., mexico NOT city
  • Combine synonyms or alternate words
    e.g., war OR conflict
    e.g., globalisation OR globalization
    e.g., khrushchev OR khrouchtchev
    e.g., AIDS OR Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
  • Use truncation and wildcards: *, $, [ ], !, -, #
    e.g., child* = child, children, childhood
    e.g., wom!n = woman, women
  • Use quotation marks to search for exact phrases
    e.g., "urban violence"
  • Use the proximity and adjacency operators: Nn (N = near), Wn (W = within), ADJn (ADJ = adjacency)
    e.g., tax N5 reform = tax reform, tax that has been submitted for reform
    e.g., Hillary W2 Clinton = Hillary Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton
    e.g., civil ADJ rights = civil rights

Internet, catalogues and databases work differently so you need to adapt your search technique for each.

Too Few / Too Many Results?

A trial and error approach is part of the job.


  • Find more generic keywords.
  • Use fewer search terms.
  • Use synonyms.
  • Use OR between terms.
  • Search all fields.
  • Avoid limiters (date, format).
  • Broaden your topic.

A trial and error approach is part of the job.


  • Find more specific keywords.
  • Add more search terms.
  • Do not use wildcard and truncation to include variations of your search terms.
  • Use quotation marks to search for exact phrases.
  • Use AND between terms.
  • Combine search fields (title, abstract, subject fields).
  • Use limiters (date, format).
  • Narrow down your topic.


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Saving your search to re-run it later or setting up an alert will keep you up to date with the latest publications. Get notified when new relevant references are added.

You can set up alerts for:

  • specific search strategies in databases
  • citations to specific publications or authors
  • new publications by specific authors
  • new publications in specific journals

Get further: