Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Prof. Wineberg - ENG 101 - Spring 2019: Top Ten Tips for Library Research (First 5)

1. Use AND to connect words or phrases

Use AND to combine keywords and phrases or concepts when searching the electronic databases for articles.

  •  immigration AND family separation
  •  DNA testing AND crime
  •  college students AND mental health  

One way to visualize Boolean Operators is to use a Venn diagram. See below or watch the video to the right.

Boolean Operator Venn Diagram

2. Use SUBJECT searches


  • Most databases work on hard-coded subjects. Find the "SUBJECT search" option and your search results will be more targeted. (You may have to use the ADVANCED Search Screen). 

  • A tool related to this is the Subject Index, Glossary or Thesaurus that is available in specialized databases (goes by different names). 
  • Use the results of a KEYWORD search to discover subject headings and further/preferred vocabulary. Usually, they will appear at the bottom of the article or somewhere in the citation. 

Subjects: United States; Border security -- Political aspects; Immigration policy -- Political aspects; Walls -- Design and construction; Trump, Donald -- Social policy

The above subjects describe the content of the PRI Radio Broadcast, citation: 

“The ‘Real’ Border Crisis: The US Immigration System Isn’t Built for Kids and Families.” PRI’s The World, 2019. EBSCOhost,


Use truncation (asterisk) and wildcards (usually a question mark or exclamation point).

  •  child* and education
  •  globali?ation and analysis

Child* brings up child, children, childhood, and any other word that starts with the root "child." This works in most of the databases.

Globali?ation brings up items with the words globalization or globalisation.

If you don't use truncation and wildcards, some databases will look for an exact match to the words you type, and you may miss some relevant materials.

4. Brainstorm vocabulary

Brainstorm all the possible ways to express your topic. Brainstorm until you've exhausted all possibilities. An article about medical device inventions may not have the phrase "biotechnology" anywhere in it. Instead, you may find that the title contains the words "medical technology" and a cataloger has assigned it the subject heading "medical devices."



Medical Devices

Innovations in healthcare

Medical Tech

Medical Technology

Wearable heart rate monitors


To get the best results, use the word OR inside parentheses.

(biotech* OR biomedical tech*) and cancer

  •  (AIDS or HIV) and (television or movies or motion pictures)
  •  (teen* or adolescen*) and (girl* or female) and aggression

Another way to think about this is Broadening or Narrowing your search terminology.

Facebook (Narrow) >> Social Media (Broader)

social phobia (Narrower) >> Anxiety Disorder (Narrow) >> Mental Health (Broader)

5. Approach research like a detective

Approach your research like a detective, looking for clues in all that you discover.

As you begin to find information, keep an eye out for:

  1. The "big names" in your research area--i.e., key people and organizations. Search for books and articles written by them.
  2. Check the bibliographies and footnotes in the books and articles you come across, and see if our library holds the materials cited by them (TIP - Search by Periodical title from the Library homepage).
  3. Find out if there is a local or national organization related to your topic (for example, NAACP, National Immigration Lawyers Association, American Psychological Association).
  4. Find out if there is an independent university, think tank, or market research/polling firm that specializes in, tracks or advises on your issue (example, Harvard Medical School, Gallup, Pew Research Institute). Understand any bias or position this organization might take by looking at who is on their board, etc. 
  5. Municipal, state, and federal government web sites tend to post a lot of valuable information, including statistics and reports (for example, NYSED,,,

Celebrating 75 Years of Excellence!

Westchester Community College provides accessible, high quality and affordable education to meet the needs of our diverse community. We are committed to student success, academic excellence, workforce development, economic development and lifelong learning.

Facebook Facebook Facebook Facebook Facebook

75 Grasslands Road
Valhalla, NY 10595
Tel: (914) 606-6600