Skip to Main Content

Search Strategies: Keywords

The recursive research process

Research is not always a linear process and figuring out the best keywords often involves starting out with a few words then adapting, shifting, and exploring. Sometimes you will need to adjust the Boolean operators or the words that connect the keywords together.

Other times you will need to use punctuation or use specialized vocabulary to yield the best results. 

The key is the ability to adjust and be flexible. 

Other search tricks

Truncation: Place an asterisk (*) to end a word at its core, allowing you to retrieve many more documents containing variations of the search term.  Example: replicat** will find replicate, replicates, replication, replicating, etc.  

Phrase Searching: Put quotations marks around two or more words, so that the database looks for those words in that exact order. Examples: "public health" and "prenatal care."

Controlled Vocabulary

Use the terms the database uses to describe what each article is about as search terms. Searching using controlled vocabularies is a great way to get at everything on a topic in a database.  

Boolean operators

Boolean logic defines logical relationships between terms in a search. The Boolean search operators are andor and not. You can use these operators to create a very broad or very narrow search.

  • And combines search terms so that each search result contains all of the terms. For example, travel and Europe finds articles that contain both travel and Europe.
  • Or combines search terms so that each search result contains at least one of the terms. For example, college or university finds results that contain either college or university.
  • Not excludes terms so that each search result does not contain any of the terms that follow it. For example, television not cable finds results that contain television but not cable.


  • When executing a search, And takes precedence over Or.
  • When you search EBSCO Discovery Service, your library administrator may require Boolean Operators be capitalized (AND, OR, NOT).

The following table illustrates the operation of Boolean terms:

And Or Not
Each result contains all search terms. Each result contains at least one search term. Results do not contain the specified terms.
The search heart and lung finds items that contain both heart and lung. The search heart or lung finds items that contain either heart or items that contain lung. The search heart not lung finds items that contain heart but do not contain lung.


Credit: Searching with Boolean Operators (

Advanced Searching on Ebsco Databases

Hofstra University

This site is compliant with the W3C-WAI Web Content Accessibility Guidelines
HOFSTRA UNIVERSITY Hempstead, NY 11549-1000 (516) 463-6600 © 2000-2009 Hofstra University