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LibrarySkills@UCL: Searching for information

A guide to search techniques and developing a search strategy for assignments, literature reviews and research.

Compiling a search string

Compiling a search string

Use search techniques when compiling a search string. If you were searching using a single search box, a simple search strategy might look like this:

(teenager* OR adolescent* OR "young people")  AND ("social media" OR facebook OR twitter)

  • Truncation has been used to include plural endings;
  • Quotation marks have been used to search for phrases;
  • OR has been used to combine synonyms for the same concept;
  • AND has been used to combine different concpets;
  • Brackets, or parentheses, have been used to group the concepts and to ensure the search is carried out correctly.

However, if you are carrying out a search like this, which has more than one concept and several synonyms, it is easier to build your search line by line, if possible.

Searching line by line

Most databases or search tools also allow you to build your search line by line, so you don't need to remember where to put the brackets.

See the two examples below, where the synonyms for the different concepts are entered on different lines. Synonyms are combined with OR and the different lines will be combined with AND. There is the option to add additional rows too.

Please note that if you are carrying out a complex search you might prefer to build your search using the search history.

UCL Explore

Explore Advanced Search screen with AND operator circled, and the add new row option circled

Web of Science

Web of Science search interface with two search rows. The and operator is circled and the option to add additional search rows is circled