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Writing 105 (Downey): Search Strategies

Grammar & Style

Proximity Searching

N or P or W

Using the these commands will find words near each other in any order.

ProQuest databases: writing N/3 "literature review" (near, any order)

EBSCO databases: writing N3 "literature review" (near, any order)

This will look for this word and phrase within three words of each other, but the order in which the words and phrase appear doesn't matter.

Using these commands will find words near each in the exact order.

 ProQuest databases: writing P/3 "literature review" (in order)

EBSCO databases: writing W3 "literature review" (in order)

This will look for this word and phrase within three words of each other, but the word writing must appear before the phrase "literature review"

Note: Databases may use different commands to perform proximity searching. If you try one of the examples above, and it doesn't work, let me know, so we can figure out how the particular database you are using does proximity searching. I sometimes Google this or look up the database documentation.



When using multiple Boolean operators in one search box, group similar keywords together using parentheses. This is similar to the order of operations used in math.

("science writing" or "technical writing") AND engineer*

Boolean Operators


Use AND to join dissimilar terms

"technical writing" AND engineer*

Use OR to join similar terms

"science writing" OR "writing in the sciences"



Use truncation to look for variations of word endings.

engineer* = engineer, engineers, engineering, etc.

Note: Some databases use the *, while others use the ! for truncation.

Subject Terms

Think of these like hashtags that direct you to items that have been tagged with these terms.

  • Most EBSCO databases have a tool to help you discover subject terms. See EBSCO Academic Search Complete > Subject Terms
  • Most ProQuest databases have a tool to help you discover subject terms: See PsycInfo > Thesaurus

When you find a useful article, look at the article's Subject Headings and record them as possible search terms. You will want to search using the subject term field when using subject headings. You can also click on them. You can also combine these with keywords.

Phrase Searching


Use quotation marks when searching for a phrase.

"written communication"

"literature reviews"

"writing a literature review"

Limit by Domain

Using the site command, you can search for content from websites that end with a certain domain, such as .edu. You can do the same with any domain, such as .gov, .mil, .com, .org, etc.

(write or writing) AND resume*

Limit by Field

It might be beneficial to search for your keywords in the title of an article or in the abstract of an article. You can limit your searches to look for matches in these fields.