Once you’ve identified your search terms and synonyms, the final pre-search step is to combine those terms into search strings.
Online search tools like the library catalog and databases require a specific format for search statements, including hte use of words called Boolean operators. Boolean operators are hte words AND, OR, and NOT. Place these words between your search terms will help you find books and articles that are targeted to your research topic.
The Boolean operator AND gives you more targeted results by requiring that two or more terms all appear within the title, abstract, or table of contents of a book or article. Let’s imagine we are looking for information on self-care for social workers.
A keyword search in a database for “self-care” returns 1353 titles.
A keyword search for “self-care AND social work” returns only 148 titles, but those are much more relevant to our topic.
The Boolean operator OR is the opposite of AND. OR generally gives you more search results by requiring either one term or another to appear in a book or article. OR works best when you are looking for synonyms or related terms.
For example, here’s a comparison using our example above:
A keyword search for “self-care OR ‘compassion fatigue’” returns 1427 titles.
A keyword search for “self-care AND ‘compassion fatigue’” returns 34 titles.
A Full Search
A good multiple search for your topic would be (self-care OR “compassion fatigue”) AND “social work”
The brackets ( ) group your synonyms together and the quotation mark ” ” make sure that the words are searched as a phrase, not two separate words.
Trunctation: use a * to find similar words with different endings. e.g. educat* searches “education”, “educate”, “educational”, edc.