Skip to Main Content

Environmental Studies and Science

Search Strategies

Before you start searching, you should reflect on your research question to identify the most relevant terms to search for. These keywords that you select can greatly impact what sources you find within the databases or on the Internet. 

You may want to start a chart like the one below as you develop your keywords. Each column coincides with a main idea for your research question.  

Table of keywords for the question, "How do social media algorithms impact the increase in extremist rhetoric in America?

Boolean operators can help your searching by expanding or limiting the results. The term is just a another way of describing using AND, OR, and NOT in your searches.

  • In order to use these keyword connectors, you will need to understand the potential relationships between your search terms. Let’s take a look at some examples.
  • Using AND will bring together results for all of the terms together, therefore limiting the amount of search results because they must contain all keywords. 
  • Using OR will increase your results by looking for all of your keywords and combining the results.
  • Using NOT will remove results with those specific keywords from your results.

Boolean Searching

By using an asterisk symbol (*) you can expand your results by increasing the number of spellings of a word that could be acceptable in the search. For example, in the image on the right, instead of only searching for the word "extremism", using the * symbol, the results will include words such as extremism, extremist, extreme and extremists and increase the number of search results. 

This may work better with some words more than others. Using this technique with "social media" would not have the same impact. 

Truncation of *wildcard

Many of the databases in the library include limiters which allow you to focus your search further than keywords or Boolean operators.

With limiters, you can:

  • Limit results to full text
  • Limit results to source types such as scholarly journals or news articles
  • Limit to a specific publication date range
  • Limit to peer-reviewed articles
  • And more, depending on the database

However, too many limiters can do just that – overly limit your results. Consider using basic limiters first such as date. Then review the results and use limiters for strategic searches.

Two screenshots of limiters from library databases

As you read through the sources you find, you'll need to organize the results that are most relevant to your topic.

Strategies for organizing your results:

  • The search chart below can be a helpful way to organize your results
  • You are not just summarizing but comparing and contrasting ideas from across sources
  • For example, two authors might agree on a problem but their research finds different causes. You may want to comment on that gap in the literature in your review. 

Below is a link to access a downloadable copy of the search chart:

Sample Searches

Blue background with a yellow circle; a white book, tablet and piece of paper represent strategic searching Possible searches for environmental topics: 

1) "soil cleanup" OR "soil decontamination" will provide results with EITHER terms, expanding the number of results

 2) "climate change" AND "polar bears" will provide results with BOTH terms in every source, limiting the results

 3) "climate change" AND econom* AND "united states" will provide results including any variety of the word economy as well as the other two phrases

4) "soil pollution" AND "health aspects" will provide results with BOTH terms, narrowing the number of results