Learning to Search / Strategies

Searching in the research databases and library catalog can be a bit tricky.

Incorporating the following tools and tips into your searches will help you create efficient searches and find pertinent information more quickly and easily:

Boolean logic: a.k.a. boolean searching (named after George Boole) uses logical words/terms (AND, OR, NOT)  to combine words or terms.  Can either broaden or restrict your search.

AND:  Results must include both terms.

**Example: mountain pine beetle AND colorado. Results must have the words mountain pine beetle and the word Colorado.  Restricts your search.

OR:  Results can include either word.

**Example: mountain pine beetle OR Dendroctonus ponderosae.  Results may have either the word mountain pine beetle OR Dendroctonus ponderosae (when searching for animals, plants, etc. it is always a good idea to include both common names and scientific names).  Broadens your search.

NOT:  Results must have one word but not the other. Only use NOT as a last resort, it can seriously limit your results.

**Example: dolphins NOT Miami.  Results must have the word dolphins but CANNOT include the word Miami.  Restricts your search. (You won't get results about the Miami Dolphins, but you also won't get results about dolphin research near Miami, etc.)

Truncation symbols: typically the asterisk (*) symbol, gives you extra searching options for the endings of words.  Broadens your search.


wol*   searches for wolf, wolves, wolverine

agricultur*  searches for agriculture, agriculturally, agricultural

Wildcard symbols: usually the question mark (?) symbol, replaces a letter or letters in the middle of a word.  Broadens your search.


wom?n  searches for woman or women

col?r  searches for color or colour

Phrase searching: to keep words together as a phrase on a page (rather than separate), use quote marks around your term.  Restricts your search.

**Example: "global warming" (only items where these two words appear side-by-side will be included in the results)

Advanced searching: use parentheses to group and combine various searches and strategies into one larger search.

**Example: If you are interested in articles about the spread of mountain pine beetle and effective ways to control it, search:

(mountain pine beetle OR Dendroctonus ponderosae) AND (control* OR spread)

Author Examples: be careful when you are searching author names within the databases.  Some databases use both the first and last names, while others use last names and initials. 

**Example: if you are searching for articles by Dr. Barry Noon, suggestions for search terms would be:

Noon, Barry
Noon, B
Noon, B* (the * acts as a "wild card" if you do not know the author's middle name/initial)

Using RSS

What is RSS?

RSS is short for Really Simple Syndication. It is an easy way to keep up with news, information, new articles in your field, etc. You don't have to "browse" for the information, you can set up "feeds" to be sent directly to you.

RSS is written in a coding language known as XML (eXtensible Markup Language).

How to Receive RSS Feeds

To receive RSS feeds, you will need to use a program called a RSS Reader or feed reader. The Old Reader, Yahoo Reader and Bloglines are examples.


  1. Decide on a feed reader, then set up an account.
  2. Decide on the types of feeds you want. Do you want news (CNN or others), government information, or search results from databases?
  3. Look for the orange and white RSS feed icon  from the appropriate places. Click on the icon and subscribe.  [If you have a page without the RSS feed icon, save the URL for the page and input it manually into your feed reader to subscribe.]

For more information:

From CSU Libraries on RSS Readers and RSS.

Common Craft YouTube video: RSS in Plain English.

Setting up saved searches and RSS feeds in Web of Science (handout): WoS Saved Searches and RSS Feeds.

FAO Zero Hunger Challenge (RSS)

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Searching Library Databases

Science literature is always changing. Looking at older articles can help you get an understanding of what you are interested in, and learn about the history. Make sure to look for recent articles to get the most up-to-date information. You can limit your search results by date in almost all databases.

1.  Think about your search strategy.  This will save you time in the long run.  Break your topic into concepts and keywords.

Example: If you are interested in gene silencing uses in tomatoes, break that into concepts and think of different ways to express those concepts (synonyms, scientific names, etc.):


2. Use Database language to search.

Boolean logic (AND, OR, NOT) and other database search "language" can allow you to have more control over your search. See the table below for the most common "tricks" that work in most databases.

Most databases also have a help section to explain how to best search in that particular database. Look for that.


Keywords vs. Subject Headings

The most common type of searching is keyword searching. Using subject headings can give you more control in your search while ensuring you don't miss anything relevant.

What exactly are "keywords" and "subject headings"?


Here is one example of Keywords and Subject Headings (SH) in multiple databases:

In this example PubMed and Life Sciences have one SH for the plant and spice - Coriandrum. PubAg has separate SH's depending on if you are looking at the leaf, the seed, or the plant.

Searching by SH allow you even more control over your search but it can be a bit confusing at first. To explore the controlled vocabulary of whatever database you are using, look for the Thesaurus or Subject Heading guide (for example, in PubMed it is MeSH - Medical Subject Headings)

Database Help

Many databases use similar languages (AND, OR, quotes, etc.) but they often have different dialects. Check out the help pages for different databases to learn all the tips and tricks to get the most out of each database. Below are some examples (links may only work while on campus):

 · Web of Science search rules, and basic help.

 · PubMed Help.

 · ProQuest Help.

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