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A guide to chemistry resources available through the NWACC Library

Keyword Search Strategies

For best results, break your topic or research question into keywords.

  • Save the words that represent the main concepts of your topic. 
  • Delete pronouns, definite and indefinite articles, prepositions, and vague or non-descriptive words.


  • Research question: What motivates adult learners taking online courses?
  • KeywordsWhat motivates adult learners taking online courses?
  • Words like "what" and "taking" do not relate to the core concepts of the research question and are not effective keywords.
  • Brainstorm alternative keywords that an author might have used. This includes different word forms: 
motivates adult learners online courses
motivation adult student online education
motivating continuing education student distance education
motivat*   web-based course

Truncate Root Words

Truncation allows you to search any ending on a root word.

For example, if your topic uses the word teenagers, then you may also want to search:

  • teen
  • teens
  • teenager

The root word is teen. To truncate and search teen with any ending you would type:


The asterisk at the end of the root word tells the database to search for that word with any ending. This expands your search to find more articles.

Why Use Boolean?

Boolean terms (sometimes called Boolean operators or command terms) connect your keywords to create a logical phrase that the database can understand.

This may involve forcing the database to look for multiple terms/concepts at once, which will make your search more precise -- or may allow the database to search for alternative terms that will bring back more results.

This creates a more precise and powerful search, with a higher percentage of relevant results.

This page will show you how to use the Boolean terms AndOr, and Not in your searches.

Boolean Operators: And, Or, & Not

The AND operator:

  • connects different concepts
  • limits your search
  • reduces total number of search results


salary AND retention

Venn diagram of AND operator


The OR operator:

  • finds different ways to phrase a concept
  • expands your search
  • increases total number of search results


salary OR wages


The NOT operator:

  • excludes results with the keyword
  • reduces total number of search results


standardized test NOT SAT


Warning: Use NOT with caution. It can remove relevant results.

Limit to Full Text Articles

Most of the databases provided by NWACC allow you to limit your search results to items available only as full text.

Look for "Full Text" check boxes like the ones below:

full text check box in ebscohost 

full text check box in proquest

Limit to Peer-Reviewed Articles

Most databases include a combination of peer-reviewed and popular content. Look for a check box on the search page that will limit to scholarly or peer-reviewed journals. Examples include:

peer reviewed check box in ebscohost  

peer reviewed check box in proquest

Finding Few or No Results?

Don't panic. This is normal.

Research is not a linear process and it is likely that you will need to perform multiple searches before you find good results on your topic.

First, try different keywords. Don't be afraid to broaden your topic and search for synonyms of your keywords. If your search returned some results, look at those results to aid in brainstorming.

Additionally, you may want to try your search in a different database. Oftentimes, topics can span multiple subject areas.

Finally, don't be afraid to Ask Us! for help!