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LS 5370: Advanced Legal Research & Writing: Search Strategies & Keywords

This guide was created for Dr. Walter Wright's LS 5370 class.


Our library databases have great resources, including thousands of peer-reviewed articles.  However, the databases are much more particular about the words you enter.   The results will contain the words exactly how you spelled them.  For example, a search for "Climate" will not find books or articles which use the words climatic or climatology  instead of climate.  

Also, sometimes the words researchers use are not words that we would use in our everyday life.  That is why it is really important to brainstorm possible keywords before you start searching. 

For example, possible keywords may be: "hydrologic cycle," anthropogenic, climate change, global warming, etc.

Boolean Words

Boolean words allow you to either reduce the number of results or expand it by either requiring certain keywords, excluding certain keywords, or allowing for alternative words.  In library databases, these are AND, OR, and NOT.  You can usually just type these in, but many of our databases also have drop-down menu options. 

Boolean AND

Using the word AND means that both search terms will be required to be in the results.  Most of our databases do this automatically. 

For example, 1 would be all articles about "Climate Change" and 2 would be all of the articles about the Pacific.  The yellow area in the middle would be the results that have both search terms.

Boolean AND gif

Boolean OR

The Boolean word OR lets you search for synonyms or related terms at the same time, which is very helpful!  Google may do this automatically, but our databases do not.  So, you can search for "Climate Change" OR "Global Warming" and get more results.

Boolean OR

Boolean OR Gif

Boolean NOT

Sometimes it is helpful to exclude certain words if you are getting a lot of results that aren't about your topic.  For example, if you did a search for "Climate Change" AND Pacific, but you are getting a lot of results about the Pacific Northwest, you can say NOT northwest.

Boolean NOT

Boolean NOT Gif


Our databases and our catalog are picky about what you type in.  What can you do? 

Truncation allows you to use a symbol, for our catalog and most databases it is an asterisk *, to search for various endings of words.  So, a search for discrim* will find discrimination, discriminatory, discriminates, etc.

Phrase Searching

You can search for specific phrases by using quotation marks.  This works in both Google and our databases.  This is very helpful, because otherwise, your keywords could be anywhere in the webpage or article.

Phrase Searching

What other search strategies are there?

In addition to "phrase searching," Boolean operators, and truncation, you can also try using wildcard searches

Like truncation, wildcard searches will expand your results. Wildcard searches allow the database to replace the wildcard symbol with any letters that would make up a real word. It's like a shorthand way of typing every possible word that fits the pattern with OR in between. Not only will this save you time, but it might also give you alternative keywords you hadn't even thought of.

Here's a table to illustrate how some of these symbols (including the truncation asterisk) typically work.

Symbol What it does Sample search Instead of typing
* replaces zero or more letters at the end of a word
(this is truncation)
comput* computer OR computing OR computational OR...
# replaces at most one letter ne#t net OR neat OR next OR nest OR...
? replaces only one letter b?t bat OR bet OR bit OR bot OR but OR...


REMEMBER: Some databases may use these symbols differently or may use different symbols, so check the database's help section if you're having problems with wildcards.