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Most of the pages tabbed in the left-hand column explain how to search for a specific format (book, score, recording, etc.). The information on this page explains basic concepts needed to get the best results when searching any of those formats.


General Information

Searching a library catalog or database works the same way as other online searches that you probably already use. Results can be even better when you understand basic searching techniques.

To identify and explore searching techniques for finding books and articles, we’ll use the sample research paper topic: Why does adult musical creativity often reduce the impact of childhood trauma?


Keywords are the most important terms that best describe your topic.

Example: Music, creativity, childhood, trauma

Suggestions: (a) Limit the combination of keywords. At first, use only two or three keywords in a search; (b) Consider possible synonyms for your keywords. For example, you could replace “childhood” with “adolescent,” or “youth” or “teenager.”

Search Statements

Keywords can be combined to make a longer search statement in order to refine your research and get better results. Boolean operators, quotation marks and truncation are tools that will help clarify your search statement.

Boolean Operators

One way to use keywords is by connecting them with AND, OR, and NOT. (In library jargon, these three connectors are called Boolean Operators.)

  • The OR operator: The search statement “songwriting OR childhood” will return articles that use either of the terms songwriting or childhood.
  • The AND operator: The search statement “songwriting AND childhood” will return only articles that use both of the terms songwriting and childhood.
  • The NOT operator: The search statement “songwriting AND childhood NOT lullaby” will return articles that use the terms songwriting and childhood, but do not include the term lullaby anywhere.


In addition to Boolean Operators, another way to connect keywords is by enclosing two or more of them within quotation marks, turning them into an exact phrase like “childhood trauma,” or “musical creativity.”


Use an asterisk (*) at the end of a root word that may have various endings.

Example: Song* will return articles that use any of the following terms:  song; songs; songwriter; songwriting.

Additional Techniques 

  • LIMITERS will help narrow your search and give fewer results. When searching for articles, the two most useful limiters are “full-text” and “scholarly (peer) reviewed.” Checking the “full-text” box will return complete articles, with all of the original text and images. Checking “scholarly (peer) reviewed” will return articles from scholarly journals that have been reviewed by experts on that particular subject. Another helpful limiter allows you to narrow the publication date range.
  • EXPANDERS will give you more results. For example, if you are looking for a music book about songwriting, but you might also be interested in a magazine article, see if the database has a box that will let you search both formats simultaneously (books and articles). Other Expanders include: “apply related words” and “all” under Document Type or Publication Type.


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