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Research Guides

WRR103: Writing Essays

NEVER pay for articles or eBooks

1) Search for the resource the library website

2) Set up Google Scholar to ask for your UTORID

3) Ask for help if you still have access issues

Tips for building your search - W&R

Choosing your Search Terms

Think of the language that will be the most effective for your search and keep track of search terms that produce the best results. Ask yourself: 

  • Will your topic be discussed in the news using scholarly terms or would other terminology be more effective?
  • Has the terminology changed over time or based on location? 

Designing your Search Strategies

Some databases allow you to enter search terms on separate lines (e.g., enter a keyword the top line and researcher or activist's last name below, so as to articulate your search request)

Using Boolean Operators (AND, OR, NOT, quotation marks, asterisk) allows you to widen or narrow the search for your keywords and target your research topic: 

Quotations marks (narrows your search)

Search for specific phrases or names or different spellings e.g., hyphens

  • "creative writing""literary non-fiction""short story" 

  • "social media" OR Instagram

  • "employee engagement" OR  "employee-engagement


Asterisk * (widens your search)

Be aware that this doesn't work in certain databases.

  • institut* = institutions, institution's, institutitional

  • Canad* = Canada, Canada's, Canadians, Canadian, Canadiana


AND (narrows your search)

  • "writing technique"  AND CanadAND poet

  • "university students"  AND "marketing strategy" 

  • "social media"  AND Canad


OR (widens your search)

Watch out for US vs Canadian Spelling, synonyms, acronyms

  • neighbourhood OR neighborhood  

  • (COVID-19 OR  COVID OR "Corona Virus") AND (questionnaire OR survey OR "focus groups" 

    • Use brackets to create separate groups of actions in your search.

  • snapchat OR "Instagram Stories" OR "Instagram Story"


NOT (narrows your search by excluding keyword)

Use only when you need to remove topics that overwhelm your search results

  • Stress NOT post-traumatic stress  

  • (writing OR authorship) NOT criticism


Brackets (instructs the database on targeting the keywords in your search phrase)

Use only when you need to remove topics that overwhelm your search results

  •  (Universit* OR College) AND "student life" NOT (academic OR faculty) 

Boolean Operators: AND, OR, NOT

Boolean Modifiers "", *, ()

Using Search Operators

Search operators are a set of commands that can be used in almost every search engine, database, or online catalogue.  The most popular  operators are AND, OR, and NOT. These must all be in capital letters to work. Other operators include parentheses, truncation, and phrases.

Use the following search operators to broaden or narrow your results.

AND Use this word between concepts to narrow your results.  e.g. sensory AND perception
OR Use this word between related concepts.  e.g. habitat OR ecosystem
NOT Use this word to exclude terms from your search. e.g. virus NOT corona
Quotations Use quotes to search for a multi-word concept. e.g. "International Year of Indigenous Languages"
* Use the asterisk symbol to include alternate word endings. e.g. cultur* will search for culture, cultural, and culturally
? Use a question mark to include variations in spelling in your search. e.g. wom?n will search for woman, women
(  ) Use brackets to create separate groups of actions in your search. e.g. "climate change" AND (ecosystem* OR habitat*) AND Ontario

Pictured below is an example of how all of the above search operators can be combined to refine a search that will help locate sources describing the experience of women participating in the Black Lives Matter movement in Canada.

Advanced search using brackets, quotations, an asterisk, and the AND, OR, and NOT commands.

Building your Search in UofT LibrarySearch

A topic search uses the full item record to figure out how that item is described by the library. You can then use that linked-description to find items on the same subject. 

First search by keyword:

LibrarySearch with keywords women and gaming.

Next choose the most relevant result and open the full record by clicking the title:

Search results highlighting the book Gaming Sexism.

Once you have opened the full record, scroll down to the "Details" section:

Details section of the full record.

There is a lot of information in this section, but the part you need is next to the heading "Subject":

Subject section of full record. 

Of the four subjects assigned to this book, "Women video gamers" is probably the closest to the topic of women and gaming. To view other items assigned the same subject, just click Women video gamers and a new set of search results will appear that are all assigned the same topic phrase.

List of results generated by the subject women video gamers.

Also look at the subjects assigned to the new results. You may find a related subject that fits even more closely with your topic. For instance, the book highlighted in the following image is described with the subject "Women video gamers", but also the subjects: 

Video games -- Social aspects -- Women
Computer games -- Social aspects -- Women
Video games industry -- Social aspects -- Women

Search results highlighting book called Feminism in play