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Finding Library Resources


This guide will introduce you to how to find research materials in the library. Finding information for your research assignments is a process that will involve searching, reading, and searching again as you develop your understanding of your research topic. This guide will show you how to break down your research question, how to create a search strategy, and how to find materials such as journal articles, books, and theses both within the ANU Library and across external platforms such as Google scholar.

Looking for something in particular? Use the links on the side of the page to navigate to the relevant page.

Breaking down your question

Before you start searching, it's important to spend some time thinking about your topic. Look at your research question and try to figure out - which words are just telling you how to answer the question (evaluate, compare, describe, outline) and which words are essential to the idea of the topic? This will help you to pick out the keywords that you can use to create your search.

The main steps to creating an effective search strategy are:

  1. Determine what the topic is.
  2. Break down your question into doing words and key concepts.
  3. Brainstorm related terms (different ways to describe your key concepts).
  4. Consider how to best combine your search terms.
  5. Consider using any special search operators like truncation symbols or wildcards.
  6. Decide where you need to search.

For example, our topic might be to:

Investigate the impact of pollution on frog reproduction

The word investigate is telling us what we need to do in our answer. The key concepts are pollution and frog reproduction. These concepts will form the backbone of our search.

Using a table can be a useful way to look at your keywords. Once we've decided on our key phrases, we can use this table to brainstorm related terms or other ways to describe our key concepts. This makes sure we aren't missing out on great materials because they described a concept in a different way.

Useful keywords: Useful phrases: Related terms
Pollution “environmental pollution” Pollution, poison, toxin, contamination
Frog “breeding cycle of frogs” frog, amphibian
Reproduction “reproductive habits” reproduction, breeding, mating, fertilisation/fertilization, laying, egg

Creating a search strategy

Once you have worked out what your key concepts are and thought up some related terms, it's time to combine those terms into a search.

Databases don't process language in the same way as people, so we need to put our search in a way the database can understand. To do this, we use boolean operators.

Boolean operators and modifiers let you combine keywords and phrases to retrieve specific search results. They are inserted between your keywords and phrases, and must always appear in UPPER CASE.

For example:

Use AND to narrow or focus your search and retrieve records containing only the specified words. For example:

  • islam AND calligraphy
  • diet AND pregnancy                                AND allergies  
  • rivers AND catchments

Use OR to broaden your search and retrieve records containing any of the words specified. For example:

  • frogs OR amphibians
  • bushfires OR wildfires
  • finance OR banking

Use NOT (which sometimes also appears as AND NOT) to narrow your search results and return records that do not contain a specified term. Note: Some search engines do not recognise NOT, so for these you will need to use the minus symbol. For example:

  • woodlands NOT forests
    woodlands -forests
  • opera NOT soap
    opera -soap
  • “conflict resolution” NOT international
    "conflict resolution" - international

Use parentheses ( ) to group words and phrases together when combining the OR operator with an AND operator in the same search. This is sometimes referred to as Nesting. For example:

  • (burma OR myanmar) AND facebook                                                                                                                                                          
  • (mouse OR mice) AND (gene OR pseudogene)
  • deregulation AND (finance OR banking)

And that's all there is to it!

There are many different methods you can use to search for the information you need. Remember, you might need to try a few different strategies or combinations of keywords to find the best results for your topic. You don't need to use all these operators at the same time or in every search.

If you're stuck, try and get creative and think outside the box! And remember the library is always here to help. Don't hesitate to get in touch if you need help.

Looking for some quick tips? Check out the Boolean Cheat Sheet Below or downloading from the left hand menu!

Plain Text Version


Boolean Example What it does
NARROW AND policy AND homelessness AND australia only returns results that contain all of the keywords mentioned in the search



vikings NOT "tv show" NOT "tv series"

education -preschool

Does not return results that mention the excluded term (e.g. locates resources about Vikings, not the TV series)

Note: Use NOT with caution, as often terms may appear incidentally in the body of an article that is otherwise relevant

" " "world health organisation" AND "immunisation rates" only returns results with the exact phrase within the quotation marks. Use these for concepts that include more than one word
site: "food scarcity" AND estonia site:edu Use only in search engines like Google. Locates resources only from URLs ending in .edu
EXPAND OR sustainability OR conservation locates resources containing at least one of the keywords
? wom?n AND organi?ation AND defen?e wildcards (? ! $) substitute a symbol for one letter of a word, locates resources with different spellings (e.g. American vs Australian)
FOCUS * genetic* AND child* truncation locates resources containing all words beginning with the root word (e.g. genetics, geneticist, genetically AND childhood, children, child)
( ) ("population growth" AND taiwan) AND health OR medicine using parentheses (brackets) helps to group sets of keywords in more complicated search strings
n3 "game addiction" N3 adolescent the near operator refines your search by requiring that your search terms must be within a certain number of words of each other. For example, N3 means the term "game addiction" must be within 3 words of the term "adolescent"


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