Using the example from your assignment, the information on this page will review keyword searching tips that will help you find articles.

"Overfishing has an environmental effect on lake vegetation."

If you need assistance finding articles, please contact You may also want to review the tutorials linked in the box below.

Keyword Searching Tips




Keyword searching is an effective method for finding information in any computerized database, whether it's the Library's academic search tool Omni, an online index (e.g. Web of Science or Sociological Abstracts), or an Internet search engine (e.g. Google Scholar).  Once you learn the basics, you are capable of searching anywhere, with better results.

Before you begin a keyword search, think about your topic. Do some background reading to become familiar with your topic and the words used to describe it.  Decide on some words (terms) to express the most important concepts, words you would expect to find in every item of interest to you.

With a keyword search you look for a word, no matter where that word appears. If you like, you can specify that the word be in a particular field (e.g. the title, author, or subject), but it can be in any position (beginning, middle, or end).

  • Think of other words which express the same concepts as those you're looking for.  Keep in mind that the system searches for the exact letters you type, and not the general ideas they express. The system doesn't think. So you have to plan for single and plural, more specific, broad or related l terms, nouns, adjectives, and verbs, etc.

    Example topic:  Impact of overfishing due to recreational fishing on freshwater vegetation. 

Concept 1: Overfishing - fishing (broad term), fisherman (related term), angling (related term) or anglers (related term)

Concept 2: Vegetation - aquatic plants (more specific), hydrophytes (more specific), macrophytes (specific term), aquaculture (broad term)

Concept 3: Lake - freshwater (broad term), inland waters(broad term), river (related term)

Concept 4: Recreation - tourism (broad term), ecotourism (broad term), leisure (related term ), sport (specific term)


  •  "Environmental Effects" is not included. The effect being examined here is related to that on vegetation, so this is the most important word to include.  Adding the the phrase "environmental effects" might narrow the search too much.  You would also need to consider the many different ways authors might express this concept  (e.g. "environmental impact" or "ecological impact" or "impact on biodiversity" or "human impact"). If your question did not ask about a specific impact, then it would be reasonable to consider searching with these phrases.
  • To search for a phrase many databases require quotations marks around the words. Otherwise, the database assumes an AND between the words and will search for them separately. Keep in mind every database is different so you should check the HELP section to see how that database searches phrases. 
    Eg. "aquatic plants"
  • Truncation and wildcards are used to find variations of words.

    Truncation will find any ending for the root of a word. The truncation symbol in most journal databases is the asterisk *

    E.g. overfish* will find overfished or overfishing

    Wildcards are used within a word, to represent any letter.

    E.g. colo*r will find colour or color
  • Combining Keywords

    When you use AND, you are specifying that both terms must be found in every item found.

    E.g. overfish* and vegetation* and recreation*

    When you use OR, you are specifying that items have either of the terms, but not necessarily both. Use an OR between synonymous or similar terms for a concept.

    E.g. vegetation* or plant* or macrophyte* or hydrophyte*

    Some databases provide search forms (usually in an Advanced search screen) so that you don't need to type in AND or OR. For those that don't, you need to place parentheses around those terms that have OR between them.

    E.g. (overfish* or fishing or fisher* or angling or angler*) and (vegetation* or "aquatic plant*" or macrophyte* or aquaculture*) and (recreation* or sport*)

    Below is what this search would look like in the Web of Science (highlighting where the ANDs and ORs should be placed).
    Web of Science Search Screen Shot

Narrowing your results

Check the database for ways to limit your results to:

  • Language – e.g. English
  • Publication Type e.g. Empirical study, case study
  • Scholarly articles/Peer Reviewed articles
  • Date range

Check the record where your search terms matched. The best matches for topics are in fields like Subject or Title. Search specific fields if there is an Advanced or Expert search option.

Use Subject Headings or Descriptors if available to increase the relevancy of your results

Add another concept to your search using the Boolean operator “AND”

Getting the Full-Text

Sometimes the database you are searching also provides full text journals. In this case you may see below or next to the citation a 'Full-Text' link to the article.

If you do not see a Full-Text link, this does not always mean we don't have the article. It may be available from another source. In this case, to determine if Trent has the full-text of an article, click on the GetIt!Trent icon. This icon can be seen near each citation in a database.

Note: If you see the notation below a citation, “ Trent Library does not have this journal”, please ignore as it is not always accurate. GetIt! Trent will be able to better tell you if we have the journal.

If an article is not available, you can request an InterLibrary Loan (ILL) through RACER. Keep in mind articles via ILL are not available overnight, so this service is only useful if you have enough time to receive the article before your project is due. We recommend that you allow 7-10 days. For more information and to register for an account please go to the RACER web site.