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UMW Libraries
Simpson Library | Special Collections

Research Skills for First-Year Seminars (FSEMs)

Using Keywords

The most common way to search a database is by typing some keywords and clicking "Search" but selecting the right keywords can be more challenging than you think.

How do you choose the right keywords? Watch this video.

Boolean Operators: AND, OR, NOT

Once you have identified your keywords, you will link them together using Boolean Operators.  Each Boolean Operator impacts the outcome of your search results.


  • NARROW your results
  • tells the database that ALL search terms must be present in the search records
    • Example: sugar AND obesity AND mice


  • EXPAND your results
  • tells the database that ANY of your search terms can be present in the resulting records
    • Example:  Individualized Education Plan OR IEP
    • Example:   rats OR mice


  • EXCLUDE words from your search
  • tells the database to ignore terms or concepts
    • Example:  tropical cyclone NOT hurricane

Phrase Searching

Enclose phrases, proper names, and titles with quotation marks.  This tells the database to search for the exact phrase, instead of searching those words scattered throughout a document.


  • "Affordable Care Act"
  • "test anxiety"
  • "Thomas Sowell"


Truncation, also called stemming, is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings.

  • To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end.
  • The database will return results that include any ending of that root word.
  • Examples:
    child* = child, children, childhood, childish
    pilot* = pilot, pilots, piloting, piloted
  • Truncation symbols may vary by database; common symbols include: *, !, ?, or #