Skip to Main Content

Chwilio / Searching: English

Before you start

The results of any article search will depend on the quality of your keywords.  Here are some tips for identifying keywords:

  • Don't type in your entire assignment title.
  • Pick out the important words from your title.
  • Ignore instructive words like analyse, discuss...
  • Ignore words like does, in, to, of, which are fine in a sentence but won't be specific enough in a search.
  • Brainstorm your keywords; think of alternatives, broader terms, narrower terms, acronyms, synonyms and different spellings.  A Thesaurus can be useful for this.
  • Having a selection of keywords is a great starting point. 

When looking for journal articles it is important that you have first done some background reading and have a basic understanding of the topic.  Without background reading you may struggle to identify keywords, to read journal articles, and to write your introduction.  Journal articles are much more focused and narrower in their topics than books and aren't usually as easy to read.

If your topic is very broad, then you may find your search results overwhelming.  If you have already done some background reading and have an idea of what you are going to be writing, it can sometimes be easier to divide your searches up into manageable chunks.

Before you do your main, focused search for journal articles you might want to consider some broader keyword searching.  FINDit article search is perfect for this as it cross searches a wide range of resources across a range of subject areas.

This will allow you to see if there is a lot of research on your topic, or not very much and you may then want to adjust your assignment title accordingly.  It will also help you to see what keywords work and which don't and potentially pick up new ones.  It will also help you to see if your keywords are picking up a lot of irrelevant articles and see if you need to take steps to negotiate that.

Boolean Logic

Linking words using AND tells the search engine to look for results that contain both of the keywords 
Linking words using OR tells the search engine to look for results that contain either of the keywords 
Linking words using NOT tells the search engine to look for results that contain one of your keyword but not the other 

Searching techniques

If a word has more than one potential ending, you can instruct a database to look for all of them by using truncation.

This way you don't have to search for them all individually.

Take the stem of your word and then add the truncation symbol.  This is usually the * but it does vary from database to database, so check the help of wherever you are searching. 












To look for words as a phrase, put them in quotation marks.  This will mean that the phrase has to be exactly as specified within the quotation marks rather than looking for all words independently within the document.


"Social media"

"Type 2 diabetes"

"Strength training"

"Public Health"

Proximity searching lets you determine how close together your search terms need to be within an article.  This is useful when there is variety in how things may be written.  For example, "pain management" could also be written as 'managing pain' or 'management of pain' or 'pain being managed' and doing a phrase search would miss all of those.  

Proximity search techniques differ between databases so check the help of the database you are using to know how to carry out a proximity search there and check that the database you are using supports them.  It is usually using N or W and a number within the words. 


Pain N3 Management

Pain within 3 words of Management

Theatre N2 Director

Theatre within 2 words of Director

Biodegradable N4 Packaging

Biodegradable within 4 words of Packaging