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LEADERSHIP: Research Guide | Search Tips

Search tips and resource suggestions for research in the field of leadership.

Online Research & Instruction Librarian

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Jeanie Winkelmann
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In This Section

magnifying glass iconIn this section, you'll find:

  • Tips and tricks for getting the most out of library databases, such as
    • Combining search terms
    • Searching phrases
    • Following citations to more articles

How to Search Databases

Mix and match your keywords - and your strategies.

Watch this quick video and click on each heading below to learn more about some useful search strategies. As you search, try a few of these strategies at the same time! These strategies can help you create complex, specific searches and gather focused information on your topic.

Video posted on YouTube by Virginia Tech Libraries under a Creative Commons license.


Is your topic a phrase or a string of words?

To search for a phrase in which word order matters, put quotation marks (" ") around your search terms.

  • For example: "social media" ; "higher education" ; "reality television"

Connect your search terms

Boolean operators ANDOR, and NOT can help you combine and exclude terms from your searches. They're used directly in a database's search bar, between your keywords.

Some databases will have multiple search boxes so that you can split up your search terms and select a Boolean operator from a drop-down menu to combine the terms.

  • AND is great when your topic has a few aspects that you're trying to research the connections between
    • For example, video games AND violence
  • OR is ideal for including synonyms or related terms in one search
    • For example, lions OR tigers
  • NOT is used when you want to exclude some terms from your results
    • For example, enterprise NOT star trek

Remember Venn Diagrams? They're a great way to visualize what the Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT can do for your research.

chart describing Boolean operators AND, OR, NOT with venn diagrams


One step further

You can combine phrase searching and more than one Boolean operator to make complex, specific searches.

Placing parentheses () around your search terms is a way to group concepts and tell the database exactly what order to use when processing your search. It's just like the idea of order of operations in mathematics.

  • (lions OR Tigers) AND poaching
  • "video games" AND (violence OR aggression)
  • "higher education" AND testing NOT gre

Use the terms librarians use to classify and organize information!

As you browse the catalog or a database and find a resource that looks promising, look for hyperlinked subjects, also called subject headings. These subject headings can be found in the detailed record for an article--what you get to when you click on a title from your search results list.

Use what you've already found to find more

This strategy involves tracking down the sources that an article (or any piece of information) cites, or following a citation chain. This strategy is a great example of why it's important to cite your sources - citations help your readers find information that is similar or crucial to your own arguments. When you find an article or source that is relevant to your research, take a look at the sources they're citing!