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Seminar in Meta-Analysis: Advanced Search Strategies

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Database Search Tips + Tricks

Follow these tips to improve the quality of hits in LibSearch and the library's databases:

  1. Use concrete and neutral words.
  2. Never type more the one or two words in a search box. Go to the Advanced Search page to separate keywords into multiple boxes.
  3. If you are not finding what you need, try to change or add keywords.
  4. Use limiters on the left-hand or right-hand side of the screen to refine results.
  5. Choose a field from the drop-down menu next to the search box to narrow results. 
  6. Use Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) and truncation (*) to expand and narrow results. 

Boolean operators allow you to connect search terms together to get more focused resultsThe most common are AND, OR and NOT:


The operator AND is used to narrow search results.

It retrieves results that contain all the terms it separates and excludes the records that contain just one of the terms.

Example 1: youth AND drugs

In this example, your search will only retrieve records that have both the term 'youth' and the term 'drugs.'

Example 2 : child AND development AND play

In this example, your search will only retrieve records that have all terms -- 'child', 'development'  and 'play.'


The operator OR is used to expand search results.

Using OR between two or more search terms will retrieve results that contain either or all search terms. OR is usually used to search for synonyms or related words.

Example 1: native OR aboriginal

In this example, your search will retrieve results that have either or both of the terms 'native' and 'aboriginal.'

Example 2: job OR career OR profession

In this example, your search will retrieve results that have either, any, or all of the terms 'job', 'profession' and 'career.'


The operator NOT is used to narrow search results by excluding one or more words.

It retrieves the records that contain the first term but eliminates any records that contain the term which is entered after NOT. It should be used with caution as it may eliminate relevant records.

Example 1: depression NOT economic

In this example, your search will retrieve results that have only the term 'depression' and any record which contains the term 'economic' will be left out of your results.

Example 2: crime AND London NOT Ontario

In this example, your search will retrieve results that have only the terms 'London' and 'crime' and any result which contains the term 'Ontario' will be not be included in your records.

A “keyword” is simply a concrete word or phrase that describes the main concepts in a research question or topicIf you have used an internet search engine, you are probably familiar with keyword searching.

A keyword search:

  • Finds the word wherever it appears in the database or library catalogue
  • Is the most flexible and broadest type of search that is best for initial exploration of a research topic or question
  • May yield too many results that are not relevant to the research topic or question
  • Is useful for when the keyword is form of jargon or a term that is new or otherwise distinctive, such as personal names or brands

NEVER type more than one or two words into a search boxUse Advanced Search for more search boxes to add keywords:

To expand search results, drop the ending of keywords and place an asterisk (*) next to the root of term to find all variations such as the plural and adjectival forms:

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Advanced Strategies

This simple and intuitive approach involves breaking your research question or information need into distinct groups, or "blocks." Follow these steps:

  • Identify and divide main facets and concepts of the query into "blocks"
  • Using Boolean operators to account for synonyms or related terms, create a search statement for each block
  • Test and evaluate your search statements
  • Combine the search statements for each "block" into one query using "AND"

Example:  How can educational technology be used to improve learning in community colleges?

Get better results from Google by using these search tips and tricks:

  • Use a "phrase search" to find an exact term by using quotation marks

Example: "distance education"

  • Limit results to one type of website, such as governmental or educational

Example 1: community college (typing "" after the search term will limit results to government of Canada websites)

Example 2: educational technology (typing "" after the search term will limit results to educational institutions)

  • Search for words in the website title to ensure the information is relevant

Example: allintitle: information literacy (typing "allintitle:" before the search term will limit results to those that have all those terms in the web page title, such as "National Forum on Information Literacy," "Canadian Research Libraries Information Literacy Portal," and so on)

  • Use the minus sign (-) to remove unwanted words from search results

Example: postsecondary education -university -training search results will include sites with the term "postsecondary education" and exclude sites with the words "university" or "training")

  • Use the "advanced search" option to limit your results by language, Internet domain, date of publication, country, and where on the web page the words appear, such as address or text

Pearl growing uses the characteristics of a highly relevant and authoritative article, referred to as the "pearl," to search for additional related sources.

To use this technique, follow these steps:

1) Find a relevant and authoritative article on your research topic

2) Locate and open the record for that article in the library database

3) Review the subject terms that are used to describe and index the article in the database:

3) Use the subject terms to search for further resources in the database by clicking on them if they are hyperlinked or including them as keywords in a new search statement

4) If necessary, repeat the process as new sources are found

Bibliographic mining involves simply reviewing the reference list at the end of an book, journal article, dissertation or similar work. The researcher then "mines" the reference list for further resources of interest and relevancy.

This is one method that can be used to trace the history and evolution of a topic or area of study. For this reason, it is an excellent technique to use for literature reviews.

Cited Reference Searching involves searching for sources that have cited a particular source in order to find similar and related materials as well as understand how an influential argument or research findings have been framed and discussed.

In the LLC's collection of EBSCOHost databases, such as Academic Search Complete, the option to search by cited reference is found at the top of the screen under Cited References.

There are options to change or select multiple databases and search citations by author, source, title, year, or all fields. For access to the full-text, select from the search results and click on Finding Citing Articles at the top.

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