Step Three in Writing a Research Paper

Now that you have picked your topic it’s time for the fun part! Boolean search operators and key words!! Don’t worry…I don’t expect you to be as excited as I am about this, or to even know what Boolean search operators are, but that’s why this blog series exists.

Two main differences between academic databases and Google:

  1. Databases don’t understand human language. They just aren’t that smart. So you have to use Boolean search operators to tell the database what information to bring back to you. More on this below.
  2.  The way Google ranks your results is by money (for sponsored ads) and then by most popular links. Databases, on the other hand, list your results by the number of times your keywords appear in the article. That means you sometimes have to go onto the third or fourth page of database results to locate the best research for your paper.

So what are Boolean search operators?

The three tools, or search operators, you can use in a database are:

  1. AND
  2. OR
  3. NOT

Here are some examples of searches you may do and how to use the Boolean search operators:

  • “gender AND roles AND England” This search string will bring back results that contain all three words
  • “Naloxone OR Narcan and opiate abuse” This search string will bring back results that talk about opiate abuse and narcan, as well as opiate abuse and naloxone.
  • “Miami AND dolphins NOT sports” This will bring back all the results that discuss Miami dolphins (the sports team and water beings) and then REMOVE all articles that use the word sport, so that we only have the water dolphins from Miami in our search results.


How to develop keywords:

For developing keywords you first want to start with your research question. We will use “What is the impact of ADHD on children’s development?” as an example.

Next, we want to pull out the most important words from our question:

Impact -> ADHD -> Children development

Now that we have the most important words, we want to develop optional, or secondary words, to utilize in case we don’t receive sufficient results from these key words.

Impact -> effect -> negative -> positive -> barrier

ADHD -> Attention deficit hyperactive disorder -> ADD -> attention deficit disorder

Children development -> physical development -> emotional development -> social development -> elementary school -> middle school -> kids -> child -> children

Now that we have keywords, and understand how to use Boolean search operators to tell the database what information we are looking for, we are going to create search strings to test in the databases. Be sure to keep track of which keywords yield more accurate results. Some examples are listed below.

“impact AND ADHD AND physical development”

“positive AND effect AND attention deficit disorder AND children”

“social development AND child AND ADHD”


Now that you have an understanding of keywords and Boolean search operating, you are ready to start searching in the databases! Comment below if you have any questions or need help deciding on keywords or search strings. We are always happy to help brainstorm!



graduate school MLIS Research Process Writing Papers


blissfullybookish View All →

Graduate student in Masters of Library and Information Science programming trying to save the world one book at a time.

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