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Sociology 245: Sociology of Health (Polonijo)

Updated for Spring 2024 by Bronwen Maxson

Overview of Search Strategies

This section of the guide covers search strategies. This page includes some basic techniques for searching. The subpages cover some specific skills:

How to Search - Basic Skills

You can use these 3 basic search techniques with almost any search interface -- from library catalogs, to search engines, to library databases!

1. AND OR, and NOT (Boolean Operators)

Boolean Operators are also sometimes called Logical Operators and they perform specific functions to your search. Not all databases require the use of AND and OR in capital letters, but we recommend that you use them in all caps as a habit. 

AND narrows your searchNoun Project icon of a Venn diagram showing overlap in the middle of two circles symbolizing where they appear together

Use AND in between different concepts to ensure these different concepts appear together in your search results. The Venn diagram to the right represents the idea of the search results occurring ONLY in the narrow place where the two concepts overlap. 

  • EXAMPLE: "Major depression" AND "primary care"

OR broadens your searchNoun Project icon showing two overlapping circles completely colored in symbolizing all concepts are included

If you're not sure what is the best keyword to use, you can include multiple keywords connected with OR to search them all. OR means that at least one of these keywords will show up in your search. The graphic to the right implies that any of these concepts (or all of them) can be included in your search results. 

  • EXAMPLE: screen* OR feedback

NOTNoun project icon: An X overlaid on a circle suggesting exclusion of this concept

The NOT operator will exclude something from your search. Tip: Use this only if you need to declutter your results.

  • EXAMPLE: Bobcats NOT tractors

Using AND, OR, and NOT in a Search

Depending on the database, you may have a single search box or you may have an advanced search screen with multiple boxes. You can use the logical operators AND, OR, and NOT in either situation. In a single box, you can use parentheses () to isolate your terms, but if you have multiple boxes, you do not need to use parentheses. 

Here is an example of a search in each scenario using either parentheses or individual boxes to isolate the similar concepts like cow, cattle, and livestock.

Single Search Box (PubMed)

PubMed search Query Box showing a search for: ("primary care") AND ("depression"[MeSH Major Topic])

Multiple Search Boxes (called "Advanced Search" in most databases - PsycINFO)

A screenshot of the Advanced Search screen in PsycINFO showing a search for "primary care" AND "major depression" AND immigra*

These searches using AND and OR regardless of whether you use a single box with () or multiple boxes, should produce the same results in this database. Note, with the advanced search screen, when you use multiple boxes, you don't always need to include the quotation marks for phrase searching. 

2. Phrase SearchingNoun project icon: one set of end quotation marks

Put quotation marks around a known phrase to search for an exact match. Be careful to only use quotation marks around a known phrase so that you don't accidentally miss relevant results.

  • EXAMPLE: "primary care"; "major depression";
  • EXAMPLE that also uses OR: (healthcare OR "health care")

3. Truncation / WildcardNoun project icon: asterisk

Use the wildcard symbol, an asterisk (*) to find variations of the same root word.

  • EXAMPLE: Screen* will find screen, screens, screening, etc.
  • BE CAREFUL: minor*, will search for minor, minors, minority, minorities, etc.