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Essential Library Research Skills: General Search Techniques

Essential Search Techniques

Keyword search

icon of a key on a document

Search engines, like Google, search by keyword. The default search in Orbis, Quicksearch, and Articles+ is also by keyword (or "All Fields"), where you will get results with your keyword is located anywhere in the record or document.

Tip: Did you see the Mind Map on the previous page? If not, consider using it to begin generating a list of keywords to support your search for books and articles.

Subject search

A subject defines a book or an article as a whole, and subject headings link information -- just like how hashtags link conversations in social media (#basslibrary). Using subject headings is an effective way of doing research.

Ways to identify library subject headings:

1. Start with a keyword search in Quicksearch and identify 2 or 3 books that are loosely related to your topic (they don't have to be perfect, just close enough). Open the records and look at the "Subject" field -- voila! Write these subjects down, or click on them (they're hyperlinked!) to uncover other material within that same subject.

2. Some resources will offer the ability to browse subjects, for example:

Boolean Operators

Combine search terms

You can combine multiple keywords and/or subjects in the library catalog and databases by using operators AND, OR, NOT in an Advanced Search (link to Advanced Search for articles in Articles+). Don't worry - you won't have to remember to enter them manually - just look for the drop-down boxes in Advanced Search.

These operators will help focus your search in the following ways:

  • AND will narrow your search, requiring all search terms be present in results
  • OR will retrieve variations ("pets" or "dogs" or "pugs"), so at least one term (maybe more) is present in results
  • NOT will exclude items from your search, helping to narrow results to only relevant information


image of 3 venn diagrams depicting: "cats OR dogs", "cats AND dogs", and "cats NOT dogs"


In the example above:

  • cats OR dogs will return results where either cats or dogs are mentioned
  • cats AND dogs will return results only when both cats and dogs are mentioned
  • cats NOT dogs will returns results when only cats are mentioned

Image Citations

From the Noun Project: "Keyword" icon by H. Alberto Gongora