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The Research Process

Search Strings

When you are searching the library catalogue or databases, most of the time you can just type your keywords into the search box and retrieve relevant results.Databases are getting better at finding information this way.

Sometimes though, it is useful to focus your search by constructing a search string which combines your keywords / terms with Boolean Operatorstruncation symbols, and quotation marks & parentheses, allowing you to group terms together, to broaden your search to include synonyms or related terms, or to exclude terms completely.


For example:

If your thesis statement is "The use of social media is negatively affecting teenagers' sleep patterns" and you decided on the following keywords and synonyms / related terms....

teenagers social media sleep
teens social networking rest
youth social networks  

... one possible search string could look like this:

(teen* OR youth) AND ("social media" OR "social network*") AND sleep

If you type this search string into the CNA-Q Library catalogue search box, your results will look something like this:


If you look at these results and decide that you do not want to include results from Africa, you can modify your search using the NOT operator.

(teen* OR youth) AND ("social media" OR "social networking") AND sleep NOT Africa


Boolean operators AND, OR & NOT are used to include or exclude words or terms in your search results.

Use AND to connect concepts. This will narrow your search results, giving you just the articles that include all terms.

Use OR to connect synonyms or related terms. Your search results will be broader, containing one, the other, or both terms.  Place parentheses around the search terms when you use OR so that the database searches them together.

Use NOT to exclude terms from your search.This narrows your search results. Note: When searching Google the - (minus) sign takes the place of NOT.

Always capitalize Boolean operators; if you don't, they'll be ignored.



Searching For Multiple Forms of a Word

Some databases allow you to use special characters to search for different forms of a word at the same time. Use these tips to make your search more effective.


Using an asterisk (*) at the end of the root of a word tells the database to search for all words that begin with those letters. For example if you search for medic* the database will find resources containing the words medicine, medical, medicinal, etc...


You can use a question mark (?) to replace any single character either in the middle of, or at the end of a word (but not at the beginning). For example, searching for  wom?n will retrieve results including woman or women.


 *Note: truncation symbols may be different, depending on which database you use.

Quotation marks & Parenthesis

Quotation Marks " "

Use quotation marks to search for an exact phrase.

For example:

If you search for social media the database will look for social and media as two separate words, so you may, for example, retrieve articles about a social gathering, which was covered by media outlets (i.e. television or radio).


If you search for "social media" in quotation marks, you are more likely to retrieve results about social media applications such as Twitter,or Instagram.


Parentheses ( )

Use parentheses to group keywords or terms together, particularly with Boolean Operators.

For example:

If you want to retrieve results with "social media" or its synonym "social networking" and Qatar, you would use parentheses in this way.

("social media" OR "social networking") AND Qatar