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Architecture for Continuing Education: Search tips

Combining search terms

How you link your search terms together is important, There are 3 main ways:


If you link terms with AND, they must all be present. Eg. cats AND dogs will only find records containing both. Adding further terms using AND makes your search narrower, as more terms must be present.

Some databases assume AND if you enter multiple terms. Sometimes you have to select it from a dropdown box. Sometimes "all my words" or similar is used


If you link terms with OR, records containing any of the terms will be found, Eg cats OR dogs will find record containing either cats or dogs (or both). Adding further terms linked with OR makes your search wider. Using OR is one way to search for synonyms, singular/plural etc You may need to select OR from a dropdown box. Sometimes "any of my words" or similar is used


Using NOT in your search will exclude a term. Eg child* NOT childish would find records containing child, children, childhood but exclude childish. NOT is another way of making your search more precise


  • AND, OR and NOT are sometimes called 'Boolean Operators'
  • Using the Advanced search option on a database will often guide you through constructing a search using these operators. You can often use them in the basic or simple search box, but you have to know them.

Become a savvy searcher

Whether you are searching SOLO, Google or a bibliographic database such as Web of Science, there are many ways to make your search more efficient and effective. If you learn some general tricks of the trade, you can apply them to whatever tool you are using.

Plan your search

It's worth spending a bit of time planning you search, for example:

  • Are you trying to find a specific item or information on a topic?
  • Do you just need some relevant information or are you starting a major literature search for a dissertation?
  • What sort of information do you need - books, journal articles, statistical information, maps, images, unpublished 'grey' literature?
  • Do you mainly want British material? Material from another specific country? Material from all countries?
  • Is your topic date-specific? Do you just need the latest publications? Do you need an historical view of the topic?
  • What research questions are you trying to answer?

Choose your terms

Think about:

Synonyms. Are there alternative ways of expressing your search term? Searching for teenagers? Try also adolescents, young adults. Some databases include a thesaurus to help you to find preferred terms

Alternative spellings. Could your term have more than one spelling, eg colour, color? Some databases search for alternative spellings, in others you have to enter both or use a wildcard.

Wildcards. These enable you to find include terms with a common stem. One character, often * represents a number of unknown characters, eg. child* will find child, children, childhood etc. ? is often used to represent a single unknown letter, eg. wom?n will find woman and women

Phrases. Some databases assume multiple words are a phrase. In many, including Google, you need to enclose your phrase in "quotation marks" Sometimes, eg. SOLO, there may be a dropdown box allowing you to specify your search terms as a phrase


You can refine your basic search in various ways, either when entering it or when viewing results. Typical ways to refine or limit a search are:

  • By publication date
  • By further subject terms
  • By type of material, eg article, book etc
  • By language
  • By author
  • By your term appearing in a specific field of the record. Eg, if you specify Virginia Woolf must appear in the subject field, you will limit your search to critical works about her and exclude works written by her.

When viewing search results, ways of further refining them are often shown on the left side of the screen, eg. as on SOLO


This page gives you general searching tips, but you will need to find out how they work for your chosen database or search engine. Look for:

  • Guidance and examples displayed on the screen
  • Links to Help text
  • Online demonstrations or tutorials
  • "Mouseovers" - point the mouse at a screen option for a brief explanation

Please contact the Library if you would like more help in searching or using a specific database