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Agriculture and Natural Resources

Develop a Search Strategy

Searching Strategies

Choosing your topic can be a difficult process - it is important to pick a topic that is not so narrow that little if anything has been written about it, yet it is also important to pick a topic that is not so broad that there is too much information and it is impossible to develop a coherent and focused thesis.

Let's say that ....


1. Divide your research question into concepts and connect them with the Boolean operator AND.

  •  smoking AND youth

2. Brainstorm some synonyms and connect them with the Boolean operator OR:

  • smoking OR tobacco OR “pipe smoking”, etc. 
  • Specific communities? (ex. minority, African-American, immigrants, low-income, children, etc.)
  • Look up ‘smoking’ in MeSH.

3. Your final search strategy could look like:

  • smoking AND (youth OR teens OR teenagers) AND minority NOT Canada


A brief video tutorial on how Boolean operators work.




Try using the Search Strategy Builder to explore your own concepts!

Searching Tips

Searching techniques to limit or expand your results






Find all the words

Find any of the words

Find documents which have the first word, but not the second word

internet AND education

internet OR intranet

internet NOT html




Search for an exact phrase by using quotes around the phrase

 "environmental health"

Truncation *

Find all forms of a word - the asterisk * is used as a right-handed truncation character only.

Searching for econom* will find "economy", "economics", "economical", etc.

Wildcard ?

Replace any single character, either inside the word or the right end of the word. ? cannot be used to begin a word.  

Searching for wom?n will find "woman" and "women."




It is important to realize that if you search a database with a certain word or phrase and you don't retrieve results to your liking, it doesn't mean that there are no other articles in that database on your topic. It may mean that you need to try other related words in your search, such as synonyms. For example, try automobile or auto instead of car.