Skip to Main Content

Introduction to Library Research

Sample searches

This page contains a few sample searches you can try. The best way to use this page is by using the searches you find here as a launching pad. You should still come up with synonyms, and actually execute the searches in a database as you read them - the methods will be much clearer than if you just read this page.

Skill building - AND

Try these searches:

  1. Search for the word "lemon" in your database of choice. Note about how many results you find.
  2. Delete the word "lemon" and instead search for "orange." Note the approximate number of results.
  3. Now search for "lemon AND orange." Is the approximate number of results bigger or smaller than searching each word separately?
  4. Now add the word "citrus" to your string, using AND. Is the number of results smaller or larger?


Lemon AND orange should produce you fewer results than either searched individually. This is narrowing.

Adding citrus would narrow your search even further, resulting in fewer results.

Skill building - OR

Try these searches:

  1. Search for the word "spinach" in the database of your choice. Notice about how many results you return.
  2. Erase "spinach" and instead search for "broccoli." Notice about how many results to find.
  3. Now combine the two searches with "spinach" OR "broccoli." How many results did you find?
  4. Now let's add another word: chard. Add that to your search statement with OR. How many results did you find?


OR will return you more results than searching a single word. This is expanding your search. Adding in another word should bring you even more results!

Skill building - AND with OR

Try these searches:

  1. Search for the term "pasta" in the database of your choice.
  2. Now come up with some other words related to pasta. "Spaghetti" is a good choice.
  3. Combine these words that are synonyms for one another with OR.
  4. Now let's search for "sauce." Depending on what database you're using, you will most likely have the option to add another search box. Add a search box, keeping your "spaghetti" search intact while you add words to the new search box you just created.
  5. Think of some other words that we could use to describe sauce. "Marinara" can get you started. Combine these words with OR.
  6. Now combine the "pasta" search and the "sauce" search with AND. There should be a drop-down menu near the search box you created; check to make sure you've selected AND.
  7. Review some of your results. The terms you looked for will, depending on the database, be bolded or highlighted or otherwise marked in some way. What kind of pattern do you notice about the results you found and the words you used?



A possible search string might look like this: (pasta or spaghetti or fettuccine or lasagna) AND (sauce or marinara or alfredo or pesto)

Every result will have at least one word from the "pasta" search, and at least one word from the "sauce" search.

Skill building - truncation

Try these searches:

  1. In the database of your choice, search for wonder.
  2. Consider the ways the word wonder can end: wonderous, wondering, wonderful, wonder, wonders, wondered...
  3. Review your results. Do your results contain only the word "wonder" or do they have the other words you came up with?
  4. Now add an asterisk to the end of wonder, like so: wonder*
  5. Review your results. How did they change? Did you get more results than when you searched without the asterisk?


Depending on the database, you may find that your results initially include the original word as well as the plural, as some databases automatically look for plurals of a word. In this specific example, we used a word with a lot of different endings. When searching wonder*, you should return more results than when you just searched wonder.

Skill building - truncation, part two

Try these searches:

  1. In the database of your choice, search for the word have.
  2. Review your results. Do you have results with the word have or haves in it? Or do your results just contain "have"?
  3. Now consider some other words related to "have." There's "has," and "having." How do we search for these words? If we search for hav*, we'll miss out on "has."
  4. Try adding "has" back in with OR, like so: (has OR hav*). How do your results look?
  5. What would you do to make your search more focused?


You can add as many words as you want with OR, as long as they represent more or less the same concept. This is great for tricky words like cope, or have, or make, where more than one letter at the end can change.

Be careful with these words, though: the database doesn't understand that you want only words related to have. If you type in "hav*", you would return results containing the words Havana, haven, and havoc.

In this situation, you may have to not use the truncation as narrowly as you'd like. Using the above example, we might decide that using truncation is not worth it in this situation, and to write every permutation of the word have: (have OR having OR has OR had)

Notice that "had" and "has" do not have asterisks - that is because we would run into the same problem we had if we truncated hav*, which is finding words like "hassle" or "haddock."

Skill building - proximity searching

Try these searches:

  1. In the database of your choice, search (enquiring AND minds).
  2. Review your results. About how many results did you get? How closely are the two words in each result? Do you see a lot of results about enquiring minds?
  3. Now search enquiring n3 minds
    • Note: the exact syntax to use will vary depending on what database you're using. The generic way of denoting proximity searching is with n#.
  4. Now review your result. How many results do you have now; more or less? How closely are the two words in each result?


Non-proximity AND searching will return you a large number of results. The position of "enquiring" in a paragraph or title is irrelevant to where minds is.

Proximity searching will return you a smaller amount of results. All of the results you find in your second search should be present in your first search.

Depending on what number you used (here, three), the word "enquiring" will be within three words of "minds."