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Bloustein School Graduate Student Guide

This is a guide to library and research resources for graduate students in planning and public policy.

Searching Tips and Tricks

Have you ever struggled to find what you are looking for in a database or search engine? These tips and tricks can help you get more specific, manageable, and relevant searches, whether you're looking on Google or a library database! 

YouTube Demonstration: Search tips and tricks


Once you’ve developed a research topic, use keywords to search library databases. Keywords are the most essential facets of your search - the unique words that will show up in similar articles in a database. 

Research Topic  Keywords 

The impact of social class on women’s mental health

  • Social class
  • Women
  • Mental health

You also want to generate related terms that you can search. These are ideas related to your keywords that might also be used in the literature.

Keywords Synonyms

Social class

  • Class status
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Poverty 
  • Female 
  • Woman 
  • Femme
Mental Health
  • Psychological health
  • Mental illness 
  • Mental wellness 

Punctuation and Boolean Operators

Now that you have your keywords, combine everything with boolean operators and punctuation! 

Trick Description Example
AND (must be in caps) Use “AND” to find materials that contain both terms women AND class
OR (must be in caps) Use this word between related concepts when you want to search for either one word or the other, but not both at the same time. The search engine will pull up articles with either term. woman OR female OR femme
NOT (must be in caps) Use this word to exclude terms from your search. mental NOT physical
Quotations " " Use quotes to search for a multi-word concept or phrase exactly "mental health" 
 Asterisk Symbol Use * to include alternate word endings  e.g. depress* would search for depression, depressed, depressive, etc! 
Question Mark ? Use a question mark to include variations in spelling in your search wom?n will search for woman, women, womxn
Parenthesis ( ) Use brackets to create separate groups of actions in your search. Each group of keywords needs its own set of brackets, like order of operations in math ("mental health" OR "mental illness) AND (wom?n OR female*)

Put It All Together

Put together your keywords, boolean operators, and punctuation. You might get something like this using our example above: 

("social class" OR "class status" OR "socioeconomic status" OR poverty) AND (wom?n OR female* OR femme*) AND ("mental health" OR "psychological health" OR "mental illness" OR "mental wellness")

These tricks work in nearly all search engines and databases! Try out some examples using the worksheet above! 


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