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AP Language Passion Project: Generating Search Terms


Using Boolean Operators

Building Search Strings

Boolean Searching

For more precise searching, connect your keywords in a meaningful way using the words AND, OR, and NOT.

Think of these connecting words as a bridge between keywords or concepts which allows you to narrow or broaden your search.

Using AND narrows your search.

Using OR broadens your search.

Using NOT will narrow your search.

When using more than one Boolean operator, remember that databases typically recognize AND as the primary operator and will connect those concepts first. Also words and phrases that should be read together should be combined using ().

Using Subject Headings as Keywords

  1. Start with a keyword search, using words/phrases that describe your topic.
  2. Browse the resulting articles; choose 2 or 3 that are relevant.
  3. Look at the Subject or Descriptor field and note the terms used, then write them down.
  4. Redo your search using those terms.
  5. Your results will be more precise than your initial keyword search.

Using Proximity Operators

Proximity operators vary by database, but some common ones include:

w# = with

With specifies that words appear in the order you type them in.

Substitute the # with a number of words that may appear in between. If no number is given, then it specifies an exact phrase.


genetic w engineering (searches the phrase genetic engineering)

Hillary w2 Clinton (retrieves Hillary Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, etc.)

n# = near

Near specifies that the words may appear in any order.

Substitute the # with a number of words that may appear in between.


cloning n3 human (retrieves cloning of humans, human cloning etc.)


Truncation, also known as wildcard searching or stemming, lets you search for a term and variant spellings of that term at the same time.

To truncate a search term, remove the ending of the word and add an asterisk (*) to the end of the word in the search field of the database. The database will retrieve results that include every word that begins with the letters you entered.

Truncation: Wildcard Words

Similar to truncation, wildcards substitute a symbol for one letter of a word.

This is useful if a word is spelled in different ways, but still has the same meaning.


wom!n = woman, women

colo?r = color, colour

Examples of Truncating and Boolean Searching


nurse AND education
adversting AND children
genetic engineering AND ethics


nurs* AND education
advertis* AND child*
gene* engineering AND ethic*


nurs* AND (educat* OR train* OR school*)
(advertis* OR market*) AND (child* OR adoles*)
gene* AND (alter* OR engineer*) AND (ethic* OR moral*)


Some words like mat* are problematic. Search results may
include math, matrix, maternity and mating.


Search Term Generator (UT at Austin)

Visu Words (Online Thesarus)