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EENG/MENG 4380: Mechanical Engineering Design

Brainstorm Search Terms and Keywords

Brainstorm search terms by:

  • Considering the who, what, where, when, why of your research questions
  • Searching reference sources (as found in the previous page)
  • Exploring a database's thesaurus
  • Brainstorming keywords with your instructor, a librarian, or your friend


Booleans describe a logical relationship between search terms.


cat AND dog

  • Narrows your search
  • Both words must be present

SES Example

ACL AND therapy


cat OR dog

  • Expands your search
  • Either term may be present

SES Example

ACL OR anterior cruciate ligament


cat NOT dog

  • Refines your search
  • Excludes the second word from your results

SES Example

therapy NOT acupuncture



Limit your results by:

  • Require the item to be full-text or not.
  • If you have time, do not require full-text as we can obtain information you need through a Interlibrary Loan Request.
Resource Type
  • Restrict to journals, books, etc.
  • You can limit your results to the most recent research. Medical information should be time-restricted. Generally, limiting to the last 5 years will help you find the most current research.
  • Search terms may find information through various subjects. Consider limiting your results to your specific subject.
  • Narrow your results by limiting them to only languages you can read.

And many more...

Phrase Searching

Phrase searching tells the database that you want a specific series of words to be found in that order.

Search = Crime and Punishment

Searching for Crime and Punishment, without quotes, will result in many articles about criminal justice.

Search = "Crime and Punishment"

Searching for "Crime and Punishment", with quotes, will result in many articles about the book Crime and Punishment

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Wild Cards

Wildcards allow you to search for multiple words or versions of a word using only word.

* (Asterisk)
The database will find all version of a word after the stem you provide. For example, a search for Therap* will result in the following words being found:
  • Therapy
  • Therapies
? (Question Mark)
The database will replace the question mark with every letter of the alphabet. For example, a search for B?ttle will result in the following words being found:
  • Battle
  • Bottle
# (Hashtag)
The database will replace the hashtag (aka pound sign) with every letter of the alphabet, including no letter. For example, a search for Colo#r will result in the following words being found:
  • Color
  • Colour

Grouping & Nesting

Nesting (also known as grouping) is a means to create a sophisticated search that combines multiple search words and booleans and is based on PEMDAS from math class. Let's explore this concept through a search.

Searching without Nesting

Lets say I'm researching ankle sprains and fractures.

  • Here are my search terms:
    • Ankle, sprains, and fractures.
  • Lets truncate the words so I can find other variants of the words.
    • Ankle*, sprain*, and fractur*.
  • Now to use booleans to connect the words together. Remember I want to find articles about ankle fractures or ankle sprains.
    • ankle* AND sprain* OR fractur*

This will come back with articles that talk about:

  • Ankle sprains
    • Resulting from the ankle* AND sprain* part my search
  • Any article that mentions fractures, regardless of the location of the fracture

This doesn't help me since I'm looking for ankle sprains or ankle fractures.

Adding in Nesting

I communicate this to the search more clearly by using nesting (wrapping my terms and booleans using parentheses).

ankle* AND (sprain* OR fracture*)

With this search, this is what the search engine does:

  1. Find all the articles that mention either the term sprains or fractures
  2. From that list, find all the articles that mention the word ankle
  3. Present results

Applying Search Strategies

The following is an example of refining my search in an attempt to find research on the keto diet.

Search TermsLimitersResultsThoughts
Diet No Limiters 31,065 Starting broad
Ketogenic No Limiters 128 Trying narrow but its too narrow. I'm possibly excluding some words that I would want.
Keto* No Limiters 917 Stepping back by truncating keto* so I can find Ketogenic & Ketosis.
Keto* NOT ketorolac No Limiters 807 Removed unrelated drug.
Keto* NOT ketorolac Peer reviewed and past 5 years 192 Narrow to recently published, peer-reviewed studies.
(keto* AND health*) NOT ketorolac Peer reviewed and past 5 years 72 Narrowing to articles that mention any form of health.
(keto* AND health*) NOT (ketorolac OR "ketone salts") Peer reviewed and past 5 years 69 Now exluding articles mentioning the phrase "ketone salts".

Scholarly Communication

You can use Scholarly Communication to your advantage when search for information by looking at past articles through reference mining and looking for articles since published by citation tracking.

Reference Mining

When you find an article on your topic, that article will have multiple references to similar articles in their reference list. This is a useful way to find more relevant articles.

Additionally, if you were to search for your topic including either:

  • "meta-analysis", or
  • "systematic review"

you'll find research articles that have distilled the current research about that topic at the time of its publication. This is another useful way to find more relevant articles.

Citation Tracking

Like Reference Mining where you find works cited within an article, citation tracking finds the articles that cite the article you have in hand.

Web of Science is a great resource for citation tracking.

  1. Navigate to Web of Science
  2. Search for and click on your article
  3. On the right hand side with the heading of "Citation Network," you'll find a number with "Times Cited" underneath. This number indicates the number of times that article was cited in other works
  4. If you click on the number (giving it is not 0), Web of Science will present you a list of articles that cited your original article.