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Getting Started

The building block of a library database search is keywords. Keywords are central ideas or terms within your research question or problem. 

Once you have your keywords identified (2-3 is a good place to begin), you then need to connect them together in a way the database understands how to search. This is done using the Boolean search operators AND, OR, and NOT. Connecting keywords using these search operators creates a search string. 

  • AND - narrow search, used to combine terms together and focus search results
  • OR - broad search, used to includes results that contain similar or like words, such as synonyms
  • NOT - narrow search by exclusion, used to exclude results containing a particular keyword

We call the written version of your keywords with boolean search operators the search string. Writing your search string at the beginning of your research process will help you better approach searching in library databases.

Example search string
sustainable OR green AND chemistry OR chemicals AND practices

Primary Research vs. Review

Scientist working in the lab under the title "primary research" and scientist speaking under the title "reviews"

The authors of the article conducted their own original research. The authors synthesize and analyze known research on a particular topic to discover trends.
Has a specific structure: introduction, methods, results, discussion, conclusion, references Its structure can be changed depending on the topic studied.

Uses first and second person like "We discovered" or "I found"

Refers primarily to "this study" (singular)

Uses third person like "they discovered" or "Choi and Wilson concluded"

Refers to multiple studies

Its goal is to add a new contribution to scientific research. Its goal is to summarize current research, draw connections, and show gaps needing further research.