Graduate Studies @ Fontbonne

Developing Search Strategies

After identifying the best databases or journals for your topic, you'll want to think about the best way to approach your search. You have a number of options and each has its advantages. 


Keyword Searching is your most basic strategy and can be a great starting point (when you use Google, you are doing a keyword search). As you've probably learned, however, keyword searches will often return too many or often unrelated results.

  • Choose words and short phrases over sentences.
  • Brainstorm different ways to describe your topic.
  • Use a thesaurus (like
  • Use the limiters described in the videos here to refine your results in whatever ways seem most useful.
  • Ask your classmates and friends! 

Controlled Vocabulary (Subject Terms)

Controlled Vocabulary (i.e., subject terms) can be another useful tool. You can discover subject terms related to your topic by looking at an article you've already found (usually after the abstract) or by exploring the assigned list of terms (also sometimes called subject headings). Look for the subject tab located within a specific database such as Academic Search or Education Research Complete. Clicking on a subject term will take you to a list of other articles that have been tagged with the same heading. {As tagging becomes more common, you'll also find lists of keywords and related tags that will offer more options for exploring your topic. Like a hashtag search, however, subject terms are only valuable if they're used.)

Boolean Operators

Boolean Operators are another strategy that allows you to target your search. Adding AND, OR, and NOT to your queries can have dramatic results.


Separating terms with AND narrows your search:

boolean image


Family Reading


Reading readiness


Separating terms with OR broadens your search:


boolean image

 Elementary and Secondary Education Act




Separating terms with NOT eliminates specific words from your search: 

boolean imageSocial Emotional Learning


Early Childhood


Truncation & Wildcards

Adding truncation or wildcard symbols to your terms allows you to do multiple searches at once. Different platforms use different symbols, so be sure to check the documentation to find the right character. 


Use a truncation symbol (*is one) to broaden your search:

Educat* =


Use a wildcard symbol (? is one) to broaden your search to include different variants:

Wom?n = 

Quotations and parentheses can also be useful tools. Use the HELP files within the databases to find additional tips. 

Finally, keep track of what you've tried and what you get. It's supposed to be a process but it's not supposed to be endless! 

EBSCO Search Tip

Choose databases screenshot

Once you start doing more sophisticated searches, you'll quickly realize Discovery searching may not be the best approach. When using any of the EBSCO databases, look for the 'Choose Databases' link at the top. You can search Academic Search, Education Research, PsychARTICLES, and any others on the list all at the same time!

Advanced Searching

This short video demonstrates how to begin a topic search and limit your results.

Using Your Results LIst

Get the most out of your results! This short tutorial demonstrates the many features available on the EBSCOhost Results List.

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