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Discovery Seminar - Science: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - Powell - Spring 2022


Databases and search engines don’t use natural language like we do - we know this from basic Google searches.

We could do a Google search like this:

Long natural language search query

However, it's more efficient to do a search like this:

Shorter keyword-focused query

What you’re doing when you shorten your question like that is distilling it down to the key concepts or “keywords”.

Search Strategies

  • Look at your question(s) - what are the key words you will use to search?
  • Now that you have your key words, write out all the possible synonyms of each word (you might even need to use the scientific name of something)
  • Take notes of what you are using to search
  • Keep track of what databases you have used

Boolean Operators

In many databases, you can use a wildcard character to retrieve results of all words that start with the letters before the wildcard. Often, this character is *.

So when searching for "pollinat*", you will get results for: pollination, pollinators, and pollinating.


Boolean Operator Infographic. When using more than one keyword in your search, you will need to use connector words, called Boolean Operators. When you use AND, ALL of your keywords are included in each search. This decreases the number of search results. Example: "video games" gives 18,737 results, but "video games" AND teenagers gives 547 results. When you use OR, ANY of your keywords are included in each search. This increases the number of search results. For example, a search for teenagers gives 105,806 results, but a search for teenagers OR adolescents gives 230,911 results. Words that follow NOT are excluded from your search results. This decreses the number of search results. For example, a search for "video games" returns 18,757 results, and a search for "video games" NOT violence returns 17,880 results.

Created by the University of Wisconsin Whitewater.