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Industrial Relations & Human Resources Library

A guide to resources available through the Industrial Relations/Human Resources Library and the University of Toronto Library System

Develop a Search Strategy

Before you dive directly into using the library resources, it is good to have a plan for conducting your search. Having a plan will ultimately save you time and help you manage the scope of your search.

5 search strategies you could employ (and use in combination) are:

  1. Keywords/Synonyms
  2. Boolean Operators
  3. Truncation & Wildcards
  4. Phrase Searching
  5. Proximity Operators

Search Strategies

Keywords, Synonyms and Related Ideas help describe your topic. It is important to think about and list keywords, synonyms and related ideas when you are doing a search because different databases use different vocabularies.

Tip: Consider that historical changes in language, common usage versus formal usage, and discipline-specific terms can impact the types of terms you may wish to use.

Boolean Operators use AND, OR, NOT to execute more precise searches:

AND    will limit your search results by returning only resource that contain all words specified

OR    will widen your search results. Use when searching with synonyms or similar terms

NOT    will exclude specified term(s). Use sparingly to help specify meaning when multiple definitions exist for the search term.


Boolean Terms

Nested Searching

When you have more than one boolean operator in a search statement, it is necessary to separate them with parentheses. This is known as a "nested searching." Nested searching tells the database the proper order in which to search for the keywords. Operations enclosed in parentheses are performed first followed by the operators outside the parentheses.

For example: ("fast food" OR "junk food") AND (obesity OR overweight OR fat) AND (adolescents OR teens OR youth)

Truncation is useful when you want to include variations in spellings or endings of a word in your search. Most databases allow you to use truncation symbols (also called wildcards) to represent any letter.

The most common truncation symbols are:

*    used to represent zero or more characters, typically at the end of a word (eg: interact* will search for interact, interacting, interaction, and interactivity)

?    used to represent one character and can be used at the end or in the middle of a word (eg: wom?n will search for woman or women)

Phrase Searching is used when you want to ensure that words stay together in a particular order. Phrase searching is accomplished by placing the search terms in quotation marks, such as "social media"
 or "junk food". Rules about phrase searching vary from database to database.

Proximity Operators (/p, /s, /n) allow you to search for two or more keywords in proximity to one another. This advanced searching strategy is particularly useful for searching legal resources where specifying a relationships between keywords can provide much more refined search results.

/p     Retrieves documents containing both terms in the same paragraph (eg: levy /p probate)

/s     Retrieves documents containing both terms in the same sentence (eg: tax /s income)

/n     Retrieves documents containing the two terms placed within n terms of one another, n being the number of words apart (eg: substance 5/n abuse will locate the word "substance" if it is within five words of "abuse" regardless of the order in which these two words appear)

Each legal database will provide their own unique set of operators that can help focus your queries. We recommend consulting the HELP section of your legal database of choice to gain a full understanding of the operators available to you.