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SEFS Graduate Research Skills

A module for all SEFS graduate students to support and develop their research skills and self-test

Search Strategies

On completion of this module you will be able to:

  • understand the importance of keywords for effective searching
  • use synonyms and subject terms to generate keywords
  • apply phrase searching, truncation and wildcard terms effectively
  • use Boolean operators to broaden or narrow your search

Other useful guides that can help you with research skills.

Why do I need to know about keywords?

  • Keywords give you the best chance of finding relevant information by clarifying what it is you are searching for
  • Identifying keywords from concepts is a key part of understanding your topic
  • Keywords allow you to capture results you might otherwise miss
  • Keywords can help to broaden or narrow your search

To re-iterate:

AND will narrow your search. Useful when your keywords are quite common and you need to be specific.

OR will broaden your search. Useful when your terms are very specific and you need to cast a wide net.

NOT eliminates a word from your search. Useful when you get two terms often found together and you are only interested in one.

Combining Boolean Operators

You can combine Boolean operators into longer search strings. The search below can be entered like this:

("green roofs" OR "facade greening") AND "urban environment"

It will return results containing green roofs and urban environment and also facade greening and urban environment

Using two different operators in the same search string? Employ brackets:

  • (media OR journalism) AND bias
  • (technique OR skill) AND practice
  • (creativity OR imagination) AND (children OR teenagers)


Use quote marks when searching for a phrase (more than one word). For example: "water shortage", "climate change"

This will ensure the search is for the exact phrase rather than two separate words and will hence return specifc results and save you time. 


The wildcard symbol '?' will match any single character (although some databases and catalogues use the "*" symbol for a wildcard as well). For example, wom?n will include women and woman.


Use the truncation symbol '*' (asterisk) to help you search for alternate forms of your keywords. For example, child* will include child, children, children's.

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