Skip to Main Content

Start Your Research: Search Strategies

Search Strategies for Library Databases

Searching in a library database is very different than searching in Google. The database uses certain language and codes to understand exactly what you're looking for.

Use the tips on this page to turn your research topic into a research strategy.

Library Research - Tips (video)

On this page:

Remember, research is not linear. You may not find everything you need after one search. If you do not find what you're looking for, try adapting or changing your search terms.

Search Strategy 1: Break a topic into key concepts

Sample topic: “Why does therapeutic hypothermia cause cardiac arrest?”  
We recommend using the Advanced Search button on the library homepage. 

Advanced Search button highlighted

Separate the key concepts of your research topic. Each key concept becomes a search term. 

Concept 1: therapeutic hypothermia

Concept 2: cardiac arrest

On the Advanced Search page, you can put each concept/search term into a separate search field. 

Search Strategy 2: Brainstorm synonyms

The database tries to find articles that contain every search term you use. This means, if an author uses a different keyword than you, their article won't show up in the results list. Therefore, brainstorm synonyms for your keywords. Separate synonyms with OR to tell the database to look for articles with either word.  

The database can help you come up with key words. Start typing in your search terms and then type OR - a dropdown of optional synonyms will come up. Choose the most appropriate words for your topic. 

Demonstration of the database suggesting synonyms when you type OR after a search term in an Advanced Search


Final search terms: 

Search once the databases synonyms have been added. Different concepts/search terms separated by AND; synonyms separated by OR.

More Search Strategies

  1. Use quotation marks around a group of words to search the words as a phrase. 
  2. Add an asterisk after the root word to search for the root word plus all possible endings. Example: Canad* = Canada, Canadian, Canadiens.
  3. Use the plus sign below the search box to add additional search fields and further narrow your results.


Demonstration of quotation marks around words to search as an exact phrase


Demonstration of a search using an asterisk to search a root words with multiple endsings and the plus button to add additional search fields