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Master of Public Administration - Faculty Guide: Basic Searching

Basic Searching

Created by Nicole Potdevin, Acting Director of Public Services, Monninger Center for Learning and Research, Florham Campus.

The basic searching techniques below apply to most databases to which the library subscribes. For a more in depth overview of a particular database, try one of our database guides.

Using AND to Narrow Your Search

Using AND between KEY TERMS can narrow your SEARCH from thousands of off topic results to a much smaller number of RELEVANT results. A search using AND between KEY TERMS will only return results that include both KEY TERMS. If a record only has one of the KEY TERMS it will not be in your results. 

To search using AND simply type AND between your KEY TERMS.

See the example below:

  • A search for the United Nations returned 45,927 results.
  • A search for Sudan returned 5,627 results.
  • A search for Human Rights returned 31,713 results.
  • A search for United Nations AND Human Rights returned 2,884 results.
  • A search for United Nations AND Sudan returned 625 results.
  • A search for Sudan AND Human Rights returned 290 results.

  • A search for United Nations AND Human Rights AND Sudan returns 71 results, which is a much more manageable number of results to review and they will be more relevant to your topic.

Using OR to Broaden Your Search

Using OR between KEY TERMS can broaden your SEARCH from a small number of results to a larger number of results. A search using OR between KEY TERMS will return results that include any of the KEY TERMS

To search using OR simply type OR between your KEY TERMS.

See the example below:

A search for TEENAGERS AND ALCOHOL USE returned 3,716 results

A search for ADOLESCENTS AND ALCOHOL USE returned 5,478 results

A search for (TEENAGERS OR ADOLESCENT) AND ALCOHOL USE returned 5,988 results. This search will include all results which deal either with teenagers or adolescents and alcohol use. 

Using Truncation

Many library databases allow you to use truncation to help with your search. Truncation allows you to use symbols (usually *, $, or #) to replace a letter or letters in a word. This can be useful when searching for multiple variations of a word or all words which start with the same root. Truncation will broaden your search results. 

For example: 

You can search for the terms sociology, sociological, sociologist, socioeconomic, etc... using socio*. This will return results for any term starting with the root word "socio".

Use this:

Instead of this:


Truncation can also be helpful when trying to find a term in both its singular and plural form. i.e. teen* will search for teen, teens, teenage, teenager, and teenagers. 


How Not to Use Truncation

This can be a very useful strategy when searching, however you need to consider what stem or root word to use. If you used soc* for instance, not only would you get the terms you're looking for but you would also return many more results than you intended, such as social, socialism, society, sock, socket, soccer, etc...