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Writing Guide: Working with Keywords

This guide covers: understanding the essay question; searching databases and organising research; the writing process: critical thinking and note-taking; referencing and citing in text, and using academic language.

Boolean Searching

When you use more than one keyword or phrase the search engine needs to know how to combine them in sets. You can do this with Boolean  Operators AND, OR, and NOT. When these operators connect your keywords they either broaden or narrow your search.

Boolean AND

AND: finds records that with all the keywords words specified. It is the most common operator and many search engines use it as a default setting. Strawberry AND Vanilla AND Chocolate retrieves all the records that contain Strawberry, Vanilla and Chocolate. It narrows your search.

Boolean OR

OR: finds records that contain either or both of the words specified. It is useful for finding synonyms or where different words are of equal value in your search.Strawberry OR Chocolate OR Vanilla retrieves records that contain either or all Strawberry, Chocolate and Vanilla. It broadens your search.

Boolean NOT

notNOT: finds records with only the first two of the three terms. (Strawberry OR Vanilla) NOT Chocolate retrieves records with Strawberry and/or Vanilla but excludes those records containing Chocolate. It narrows your search but should be used with care as it can easily exclude relevant results.

Boolean Advanced

icecream scoopsYou can create more complex search strategies using Parenthesis. For example: Ice-cream AND (Chocolate OR Vanilla)

Searching for exact phrases using Inverted commas can also provide a more accurate search result. For example: "chocolate ice-cream"

Truncation symbols such as * and ?  can be used to find words with the same root, so that plurals and other variations of a word are included. For example: A search for sweet* finds sweets, sweetener, sweeter etc.

Be aware of spelling variations between British and American English and try alternatives in your search sets. For example: colour OR color

Search smarter, search faster

Boolean operators

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