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Literature Reviews for Education: Search Term Strategies

Transforming a Topic into Terms

Search strategies in a few steps
Step 1: State  your research topic: The impact of video games on violence in teens.
Step 2: Identify key terms: video games, teens, violence.
Step 3: Identify related terms. Violence= aggression, shootings, attacks. Video games= gaming, gamers, computer games. Teen= teens, teenagers, adolescents, youth.
Step 4: Apply search tricks
Use or to search for synonyms. Violence or aggression. Combine similar terms with or.
Use * to search word variations. Teen* will retrieve teen, teens, or teenagers.
Combine it all with And.

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators refer to use of the words AND, OR, NOT in searching. We use these words to connect our search terms in order to narrow or broaden search results. 

In many library databases, you'll select Boolean operators from a dropdown menu to link together different lines. In search tools like Google Scholar, or in advanced search options in most databases, you can use Boolean operators written out (for example, bilingual education AND language policy)

Boolean Operator Example What it does
AND bilingual education AND language policy Narrows your search
OR teens OR adolescents OR "young adults" Broadens your search
NOT heritage language immersion NOT "dual language immersion" Weeds out unhelpful stuff
"" (Quotation marks) "second language acquisition" Searches an exact phrase, those words in that order
* (Asterisk)


(will include possibilities like communication, communicators, communicating, etc)

Includes all possible word ending variations


Shown in the table above, truncation, also known as stemming, uses the root word followed by an asterisk to allow for different stems or endings of that word. Most databases use as the truncation symbol.

When using the truncation symbol, be mindful of where you end your word and use the * symbol so that you hone in on relevant results. (example: comput* for computer, computers, computing, not comp*)

You can also use the truncation symbol in the middle of a word, i.e. hea*one will return results for headphoneheadstone

Or use it between words, i.e. state * standards will return results for state science standardsstate math standards



A wildcard symbol, similar to the truncation asterisk *, is used to replace letters in keywords that have multiple possibilities. Wildcards generally cannot be used as the first character in a search term. 

Use with caution!

  • Wildcard and truncation symbols are an advanced search strategy because they can be interpreted differently by different databases.
  • Most databases already have built-in search options you can toggle on/off that act similarly to these symbols.
  • See the Find Articles page for more information on these features in the core Education databases. 
Symbol Example What it does


(will include color and colour)

Includes alternate spellings of words. Acts as a replacement for one character.
?   Acts as a replacement for one character.

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Find Synonyms

To find more on your topic, try changing your keywords/search terms to reflect how your topic is described in library databases. Bibliographies and Thesauri are great resources to find new search terms.

Oxford's Education Bibliographies are comprehensive, connecting you to terms used in the field, the history of a topic and prominent researchers through linked meta-analyses and foundational articles. The ERIC Thesaurus is an excellent place to find out how research on your topic is described in the ERIC ProQuest or free databases.