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Once you are in a database, you will need to convert your topic or research question into language the computer understands. The following search techniques will help you with this process.

Search Strategies

The first step is to determine keywords that sum up the main concepts of your topic. Keywords are typically nouns or noun phrases. If you phrase your topic as a research question or thesis, you can often pull keywords from the topic sentence.

Example topic: What steps need to be taken for a manned trip to Mars?

Keywords: manned trip, Mars

Sometimes the keywords from your original topic sentence will not produce the types of results you want. When that happens, try to think of related keywords. These can be other words that have similar meanings, words that are broader (good for when you have too few results), or words that are more specific (good for when you have too many results).

Example related keywords:

Similar: manned space flight, martian exploration
Broader: planets, space exploration
Narrower: mars probes, propulsive options, space vehicle landing

Truncation (shortening your keyword) makes the database look at other possible forms of a word for which you are searching. Use truncation to find plurals and variations on the endings of a word. To truncate, use the asterisk symbol: *. You can enter this symbol by pressing Shift and 8 on the keyboard at the same time or by pressing the asterisk symbol on the number pad.


  • You want to find the following terms:
    astronomy, astronomical

    Use astronom*
  • You want to find the following terms:
    planet, planets, planetary

    Use planet*
  • You want to find the following terms:
    galaxy, galaxies

    Use galax*

To find an exact phrase (i.e., words in a row in an exact order), enclose the phrase in quotation marks.


  • "solar system"
  • "manned space flight"

Combine keywords by putting the word AND between them. This requires that both keywords be present in the database's search results. Entries that include keywords connected by AND are referred to as search statements.

Example Search Statements using AND:

  • mars AND "manned space flight"
  • planet* AND "space exploration" 

Note: If you use the Advanced Search feature of a database, AND is the default connector between the entry boxes.

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