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Getting Started in the Library

This guide helps students and faculty get started navigating the library's online resources.

Search Strategy

Developing a search strategy involves:

  1. Identifying the main ideas in your research question.
  2. Thinking of keywords and related terms (i.e. search terms).
  3. Combining your search terms using search techniques

Unlike Google, which looks for related or alternative terms of words used in a search, most library catalogues or article databases do not have this feature. It’s important to search for alternative words that represent your ideas since articles or books may use different words to describe the same idea. If a topic is new to you, it will help to look at research starters like encyclopedia entries so you can become more familiar with the vocabulary of your topic.

Search Techniques

The following techniques can be used in most search engines to narrow, broaden or eliminate results. 

Boolean Logic

Boolean logic can be used in search engines to narrow or broaden search results, using the words AND, OR and NOT

  • AND - will narrow results
    • Example: design obsolescence AND environmental impact will only show articles with both phrases
  • OR - will broaden results
    • Example: design obsolescence OR planned obsolescence will show articles with either phrase
  • NOT - will eliminate results
    • Example: design obsolescence NOT health will show articles about design obsolescence in fields other than health


  • The wildcard is represented by a question mark ? or a pound sign #.
  • To use the ? wildcard, enter your search terms and replace each unknown character with a ?. This search finds all citations of that word with the ? replaced by a letter. 
  • For example, type ne?t to find all citations containing neat, nest or next. This search does not find net because the wildcard replaces a single character.  
  • To use the # wildcard, enter your search terms, adding the # in places where an alternate spelling may contain an extra character. This search finds all citations of the word that appear with or without the extra character.
  • For example, type colo#r to find all citations containing color or colour.


  • Truncation is represented by an asterisk (*). To use truncation, enter the root of a search term and replace the ending with an *. ‚Äč
  • For example, type art* to find the words art, arts, artist, artists.
  • Note: The Truncation symbol (*) may also be used between words to match any word.
  • For example, a midsummer * dream will return results that contain the exact phrase, a midsummer night’s dream.
  • Note: Wildcards and Truncation can not be combined for a term in a search. For example, a search for p#ediatric* would be the same as a search for P*


  • Quotations can be used to search phrases
  • Example: planned obsolescence will search for both words anywhere in the field. “Planned obsolescence” will search for the two words together

Subject vs. Keyword Searches

If you don't know the specific title or author of an item, or if you are searching for literature on a topic, you will probably rely on keyword or subject searches.

Keyword Searches

Keyword searches use natural language, similar to Google. Using the keyword search will look for you search terms in multiple fields, including title, author name, abstract or summary, and full-text.

Subject Searches

Subject searches, use controlled language and only return results in which the term being used appears in the subject field. Databases have different interfaces and use different terms, but most will provide these two options for searching.       604-844-3840        520 East 1st Avenue, Vancouver, BC