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LIS 407: Reference & Information Services: Search Strategies and Techniques

Givens, Wanted, Clues etc

Simple Catalog Search

library catalog search results from the search 'museum and directory'

Advanced Search for Shortlist of Likely Print Reference Sources

Advanced Search for Shortlist of Likely E-reference Sources

Boolean Operators

Boolean Operators allow users to combine concepts in a keyword search of online catalogs or databases.

OR is used to expand your search.

Two circles overlapping that are both completely filled in with color. The word 'or' is next to them.

AND is used to narrow search results.

Two circles overlapping with the overlapping area filled in with color. The words 'and' are next to the circles.

NOT will exclude specific terms from your search results.

 Two circles overlapping with just the left circle (and none of the overlapping section) is filled in with color. The words 'not' are by the circles.


Truncation is the addition of a symbol (commonly the asterisk) at the ending of the root of a word. Using this technique will open up a search to include variants of the word.

Example: teach* will result in a search for 'teach', 'teacher', teachers', or 'teaching'

Concept Grid

You may find it helpful to use a concept grid as you prepare to search an online database.

This is what a concept grid looks like:

Concept #1 OR Synonym OR Synonym
Concept #2 OR Synonym OR Synonym
Concept #3 OR Synonym OR


  1. Start by identifying the concept(s) for which you will be searching.
  2. Can you think of any synonyms or variations for the concepts?
  3. Use Boolean Operators to link the terms together
  4. When possible, use truncation to broaden your results

* Note that you can also use parenthesis to create a search string:

(Concept #1 OR Synonym OR Synonym) AND (Concept #2 OR Synonym OR Synonym) AND (Concept #3 OR Synonym OR Synonym)

Other Searching Strategies

1.  If stumped, do something else for awhile and then come back to your question.

2.  Often there are different subject approaches, change gears and try another tack.

      Example:  Looking for early education information in France

3.  When using an index to locate information, remember to look under all appropriate terms both narrow and broad.

      Example  Looking for information on grandfathers clocks, looked under clocks but the information was really under furniture

4.  Don't forget the obvious source, don't over think!

5.  Remember that answering the patron's question might not give them the information they are really looking for. Conduct a good reference interview first.

Email Linda your search tips from lessons learned for the list

Searching for Material

Use the guides below to learn more about search techniques:

Boolean Operators & Truncation

Creating Keyword Searches

Keyword Search Grid