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MU Extension

Search Strategy Builder

MU Libraries' Search Strategy Builder is a tool designed to teach you how to create a search string using Boolean logic.

While it is not a database and is not designed to input a search, you can cut and paste the results into your desired database's search boxes.

Search Tips

All databases (and search engines like Google) use what is called "Boolean logic" to help the platform parse through information to find the most relevant results. Boolean operators are ANDOR, and NOT

  • AND makes your search more specific, getting results that include both terms 
    • "chocolate AND milk" will find resources that mention both terms
  • OR broadens your search, finding articles that have at least one of the terms
    • "chocolate OR milk" will get resources that only mention chocolate and ones that only mention milk -- not necessarily both
  • NOT excludes terms from the search results
    • "chocolate NOT milk" will exclude results that also mention milk


Create Key Words

Think about the most critical parts of your research question and think about the various terms that could be used. Don't limit yourself to one way of phrasing -- think about other ways to express your Don’t get stuck on one term if there are other ways of expressing it.

  • Break down your research question into the most important words, and connect them with AND.
    • "Should I grow avocados in my garden or greenhouse?" = grow AND avocado AND garden
  • Brainstorm synonyms and connect with OR.
    • (grow OR plant) AND avocado AND (garden OR greenhouse)

Use our Search Strategy Builder to create a search strategy for your topic.


Choose the Best Database(s)

Databases are often specific to certain subjects or types of resources, so you want to pick the one most relevant to your research. Think about any multidisciplinary aspects of your research and whether searching within that subject may help you find more relevant resources. 

  • Researching the economic impacts of farming? Search both agricultural and economics databases.
  • Researching the impacts of limited mental health resources in rural areas? Try searching in health, psychology, and rural sociology databases.

You can search databases by subject on the MU Libraries' database list

Try your search in a few different databases to see which yields the best results.


Additional Search Strategies

  • Use the wild card symbol (*) to get plurals and variant endings.
    • method* = method, methods, methodology, methodologies, methodological, etc.
  • Put quotation marks around multiple words to keep them together as an exact phrase.
    • "garden crops"  |  "soil alkalinity"  |  "executive function"
  • Once you have a solid search string that is finding the right types of articles, use limiters to get a narrower selection of results.
    • Limit by language, date range, publication type, etc. 
    • Limiting to peer-reviewed articles often helps you find the most scholarly resources.


More Resources

View the MU Libraries' Basic Research Guide for more examples on how to create a Boolean search. 

You can also learn more by watching this YouTube Video on Boolean logic.