Search Tips

When researching in many of the Jerry Falwell Library databases, the default is to search across many fields automatically. Typically fields being searched include the title, author(s), volume, subject terms, and/or ISBN as well as in the text of an article or e-book. Using the advanced search options in a database will allow you to specify one of those areas in order to focus your search and locate more specific results.

Search Queries

  • The databases are not designed to search like Google for a natural language question such as:

What was the 2014 GDP of Chile?

  • Instead, the databases instead rely on the use of keywords. A good search for the question above would be:

Chile AND GDP AND 2014

Note the capitalization of the word AND in the sample search above. Please see the Boolean Logic section below for more details on the use and capitalization of the words AND, OR, and NOT to narrow or broaden your search.

“Quotation Marks”

Placing quotation marks around your search phrase is helpful because doing so will limit results to only items that contain those words in that exact order. This will increase the accuracy of your returned results.

  • For example, a search for the phrase Adult Learning will return very different results with and without quotation marks:

Adult Learning search results: 457,965

“Adult Learning” search results: 21,156

In the example of “Adult Learning”, the results are approximately 95% more relevant than searching without quotation marks. This is because if quotation marks are not used, the database will search for the word Adult or the word Learning, and results will include resources that mention both or either word, regardless of the order in which they appear or their relationship to one another.

Boolean Operators: AND, OR, NOT

Database search fields recognize AND, OR, and NOT as Boolean operations when they are typed in ALL CAPS in the search box.

  • Using AND allows terms to be linked together to narrow and focus your search. For example, if you are trying to locate sources on technology used in the elementary classroom, you could perform one of these searches to focus your results:

technology AND “elementary education”

technology AND “elementary school”

technology AND “elementary school” AND impact

  • Using OR expands your search and is useful when there is more than one commonly used term or phrase for your topic. For example, you could search:

“local food” OR “sustainable eating”

  • To exclude items in search, you can use the NOT operator to focus your search. For example, you might want to search:

animal NOT dog

birds NOT penguins

As shown in the examples above, you can use quotation marks for exact phrases that are part of your Boolean search.


Searches using the search “all” option can be performed using the wildcards ? and *. (Wildcards cannot be used as the first character of a search.)

  • The question mark (?) will match any one character.

Example: “Ols?n” will return results for “Olsen” or “Olson”

  • The asterisk (*) will match zero or more characters within a word or at the end of a word.

Example: “Cha*r” would match “Chapter”, “Chair”, and “Char”

Example: “Temp*” will match “Temptation”, “Temple”, and “Temporary”

Developing search strategies is necessary to successfully locate the best results for your research. The Research and Instruction Department has created a short video series that provides an introduction to the best practices for searching the library databases.