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Getting Started with Library Resources

Your guide to getting started with library resources and research help

Starting Your Search

  • Start with the assignment. Take a look at your assignment. Does it provide you with topic options, or can you select your own?
  • Not to broad, not too narrow. Do some background research, and identify a topic angle. Keep in mind: narrow topic - not enough resources, broad topic - too many resources. If your topic is too broad try narrowing it down by thinking about what key groups are involved (e.g. students, migrants, women), whether a certain location or time period (e.g. Canada), and what big concepts (e.g. climate change) make up the topic.
  • Topic examples
    • ‚ÄčToo broad: Why do people drive electric cars?
    • Too narrow: How many Ontario drivers prefer electric cars over other types of cars because they like how they look?
    • Just right: Why do some Canadians choose to purchase electric cars?
  • Form a research strategy. The type of information you need to find will dictate where you need to search. Open web or library resources? Identify strong keywords, synonyms and related terms.

Background Information

Before digging too deep with your research, it is a good idea to do some background research to clarify and concepts or vocabulary you are unclear on. Background research can also help you identify which keywords will be most effective when researching your topic! Check out a few resources below:

Search Tips

You may think that you don’t need to learn how to search a library database because you’ve had good luck searching Google (or another web search engine) to locate information. But searching a library resource is not the same as searching for information using Google. A database provides structured access points (e.g., keyword, author, publisher) to help users locate specific resources, whereas a search engine searches unstructured text. To find what you are looking for in a database your search should be concise and concrete - i.e. short and sweet! Check out our tips below for creating an effective search strategy.


Keywords are words that hold the essence, or the key, of what you are trying to find. Keywords should be descriptive and short and are often (but not always) nouns. If you're feeling stuck, try using a key concept/idea, a key group, a location, or a time period as your keywords.

If you are searching for sources for an assignment, you can identify the first keywords from the topic itself.  Usually three keywords will give your search a good level of specificity. The more keywords you add, the narrower your search becomes.

Topic example: Why do some Canadians choose to purchase electric cars?

KeywordsCanadians (key group), purchase (concept), electric cars (concept)

Navigate to the Advanced Search page and enter your keywords, each in its own box. Example:


Synonyms are words that have the same, or nearly the same, meaning as the main keywords. Synonyms and keywords are interchangeable, which means that the meaning of your search will remain the same but your scope will be more broad. Using synonyms is a good way to capture extra results that are still related to your original topic.

Here are a few synonyms for the topic: Why do some Canadians choose to purchase electric cars?

reasons = decisions, motives

Canadians = Canadian people, Canadian drivers

purchase = buy, acquire

electric cars = hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles, hybrid cars

In the database, your search with both keywords and synonyms will look something like this:

Boolean operators are a set of commands that you can use when searching databases and our library catalogue. By using them in your search, you will either broaden or narrow your results. The three most popular Boolean operators are: AND, OR and NOT.
AND:  Use AND to join your keywords. Using AND will also narrow your search since it requires the database to find instances where both of your keywords are present. For example: “social sciences” AND research
OR: Use OR to connect your synonyms. Using OR will broaden your search since it will look for either one of the synonyms.  Example: “social sciences” OR “sociology”
NOT: Use NOT when you are looking for one term not the other. Example: “social sciences” NOT “earth science”


Boolean operators can be used in the search box:

Or the Advanced Search screen in our library catalogue: 


Use quotation marks when searching a for an exact phrase. This will instruct the search engine to find results with the two words together rather than separately. Be careful not to include too many words in quotations marks (i.e., entire sentences) as this may limit your search.
Examples: "social sciences"; "Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms"; "climate change"; "mental health"






In this example, a search for mental health WITHOUT quotation marks yields about 2 million results. Adding "mental health" WITH quotation marks lowered the results to 1.6 million. This is a small trick that can change your results in a big way!

Truncation means to shorten a word. You can search all the alternate endings of a word by using an asterisk ( * ). You can also use the asterisk as a "wild card", when used this way, the asterisk will search for alternate spellings of a word. 


Truncation examples:

Canad*  will search for Canada, Canadian, Canadians all at the same time.
Educat* will search for education, educate, educator, educational, etc.

Wildcard example:

Wom*n  will search: woman, women

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