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Communications & Writing Research Guide

This guide is intended to help students in all levels of writing and communications classes - whether you are new to doing research at Bentley or need a refresher!

Choosing Search Terms

Planning out your search strategy -- especially search terms you want to use -- can make the research process easier. When picking out search terms (alternatively can be called "key words"), look at your research topic or research question along with any smaller questions or parts, and pick out the significant nouns or ideas. These will be your search terms. You should also think of all of the various ways those nouns or ideas could be expressed - if one variation doesn't work, try another.

Use a Keyword Brainstorming Worksheet to help you determine appropriate search terms. Here is an example:


You can also look for the controlled vocabulary that the tool you are searching uses (i.e. the catalog and library databases). Controlled vocabulary is a set of assigned terms to describe an item that are used consistently across the tool to make searching easier. These can be described as subjects, subject terms, or thesaurus terms

Also, identify discipline terminology and jargon. How does the specific field you are researching in refer to a topic or idea?

Keep a list of search terms that you find to be useful for your topic/question that you can use to search various tools to find information and resources.

Search Tips for Searching Library Databases

The library's databases have different search interfaces, but they share basic search principles. Some of these principles are listed below.

It is good practice to look for the [Advanced Search] option in each database that you use. The advanced search page will usually make it very clear as to how you can control your search using Boolean search techniques, limiters, field searching, etc.

Boolean Searching

Boolean searching is the cornerstone to an effective search strategy. Boolean searching refers to searching using a combination of words and the three Boolean Operators: AND, OR, NOT.  A best practice is to capitalize your Boolean Operators.


  • AND will make your search smaller. If you are retrieving too many records on your topic, try adding another search term with the operator AND.

For example: "krispy kreme" AND marketing

  • OR will make your search bigger. If you are retrieving too few records on your topic, try adding another search term with the operator OR.

For example: (adolescents OR teenagers)

  • NOT will exclude a word from your search results. If you are retrieving too many records on an unrelated topic, try eliminating a word with the operator NOT.

For example: dolphins NOT football

Phrase Searching

To search for two or more words in the exact order in which they are entered you should enclose the phrase in quotation marks " ".

For example: "obsessive compulsive disorder"


Truncation allows you to search the root form of a word with all its different endings by adding a symbol to the end of a word. Truncation symbols vary by database (check the help screens or ask a Librarian), but are usually one of the below:

* (asterisk)
! (exclamation point)
? (question mark)

For example: advertis* will search for advertise, advertisement, advertising, advertises

Field Searching & Limiters

Each database has a variety of predefined fields or limiters that you can search within. Some examples of fields and limiters are:

  • article title
  • article abstract
  • article text
  • author
  • publication title
  • date
  • geographic location
  • company name
  • product name
  • ticker symbol
  • NAICS/SIC Codes
  • document type
  • publication type
  • scholarly or peer-reviewed