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Information Literacy and the Social Work Researcher: Searching Techniques

The Logic of Searching

Tutorial courtesy of the University of Southern California Libraries

Using Boolean Operators when searching will give you better, and more accurate, results.  


  1.  AND- Retrieves articles that contain all of the search terms and narrows down the results. 
  2. OR- Retrieves articles with any of the terms and broadens the search.  
  3. NOT- Eliminates articles containing the second term which narrows the search. 
  4. Using Quotations or brackets will search for a phrase as a whole. 
  5. Using Boolean logic and keywords are essential when searching library databases.  If you only search Google, you won’t get very far.  Google uses natural language, which is great when you want to find certain everyday things on the open web, but natural language doesn’t work in databases.  

Boolean Basics

Basic Search Plan Activity

Lit Review Processs

Courtesy of Virginia Commonwealth Libraries


Courtesy of The University of West Florida Libraries

Searching Using Limiters and Fields for Better Results

Most databases allow you to narrow your search results according to certain criteria.

Some common limiters (also called filters) include:

  • Peer-Reviewed or Scholarly
  • Publication Date
  • Publication Type
  • Language
  • Subject: Major Heading
  • Age
  • Geography
  • Population

Limiters vary by database.  Please check the database's Help page, for specific information.

Citation Searching

Citation searching, or using the references cited by authors, not only leads researchers to other relevant articles on their subject of interest, it can also indicate the importance of a piece of research.

This is where you will want to use the library's "discovery tool", or the main search box on the library homepage.  This feature is best used for a known item, such as an article that you know the title and author, or a book or ISBN number.