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Research Guides

CHM197: Environmental Chemistry in a Sustainable World

Clarify your topic

Summarize your topic

What is your topic? Try to write it down in a short phrase or sentence.

Example: Use of animal waste to generate biomethane for energy production.

Break down your topic into concepts

Try crossing out filler words and more general terms.

Example: Use of 1) animal waste to generate 2) biomethane for 3) energy production

In this example, we've broken down our search into three "chunks" or searchable pieces. We are interested in sources that include all three of these pieces.

Venn diagram with three circles. The words energy, animal waste, and biomethane are in each of the circles, and there is an arrow pointing to the centre where all of the circles overlap that reads "The ideal article"

Identify Keywords

What keywords will you use to search for this topic? Think of a few synonyms for each concept, as different authors might use different words and phrases to talk about your topic.

Consider the differences between how academic researchers might talk about it compared how popular media will talk about it. You are unlikely to find scholarly articles that use the term "zoo poop", but you might find media articles that do!

For example, there are multiple ways that authors write about the concept biomethane:

  • Biogas
  • Biofuel
  • Methane
  • Renewable natural gas
  • RNG

When brainstorming synonyms and related terms, consider:

  • Broader and/or more specific terms
  • Alternate word endings
  • Alternate spellings
  • Acronyms and abbreviations
  • Phrases

You can also use Wikipedia, encyclopedias, dictionaries and any relevant sources that you have already found.

Search Tips

1. Boolean Operators

Use Boolean Operators AND and OR to combine your keywords and signal to the database how they relate to one another.


  • Articles must contain all terms
  • Combine different concepts
  • Narrows your search to get fewer results

Example: biomethane AND animal waste


  • Articles can contain either or both terms
  • Combine terms for the same concept
  • Expands your search to get more results

Example: biomethane OR biogas

2. Truncation

Truncation can be used to search for multiple different word endings in many databases. You can do this in most databases by placing an asterisk (*) at the end of the word root to stand in for any number of additional letters. Be careful not to place the asterisk too early in the word, or you will get lots of irrelevant results!



  • chemistry
  • chemical
  • chemist
  • chemists
  • chemotherapy
  • chemotherapeutics
  • chemometrics


  • chemistry
  • chemical
  • chemist
  • chemists






3. Phrase Searching

Use quotation marks to search for an exact phrase in a database.

For example, searching for "animal waste" will find articles where 'animal' and 'waste' appear next to each other in the citation.

However, if you search for animal waste without quotation marks, it will find the words animal and waste anywhere within the record, not necessarily next to each other or in the order that you have entered them.

Use all 3 strategies together!

"animal waste" AND biogas*

Start with LibrarySearch

You can begin your search using the LibrarySearch box below. This will search for books, ebooks, journal articles, journals that you have access to through U of T Libraries.

This is a great way to find known items, like a specific journal article. Put the article title in "quotations" for better results. (i.e. "Enironmental Chemistry")

Learn more about how to use LibrarySearch by visiting the links below!