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Information Skills: 5: Search strategies

Using and combining search terms

If you use or combine search terms in a certain way, they turn out to be much more effective. This increases the likelihood of you getting the search result you want.

Quote marks

By putting two or more search terms in quote marks, you are indicating that they must appear in this exact order in the search result.
You can use this method to search for a name that consists of a first name and a surname.
Words that are often written as one word in Dutch are usually written as two separate words in English. You can still search for these word combinations, by putting quote marks before and after the words.

An example of how to use quote marks:
“social media”

Boolean search

A Boolean search is when you search with the aid of so-called Boolean operators: AND, OR and NOT. This allows you to combine your search terms in a particular way. This may be relevant for your search result. In any case, it helps you to refine your search result. In the following examples, the search result is indicated in black.

AND-operator (search: learning behaviour AND students)
Result: pages where both the terms learning behaviour and students appear.

OR-operator (search: LinkedIn OR Facebook)
Result: pages where at least one of the two terms appear. Thus, both terms may also appear.


NOT-operator (search: “Social media” NOT Facebook) (be sure to put social media between quote marks here, thereby indicating that the terms social and media go together)
Result: pages where the term ‘social media’ appears, but not the term Facebook.

The Boolean operators are AND, OR and NOT, but every information source uses its own form of notation. For example, AND can also be written as + and NOT as -. Consult your information source’s help function to find the right notation.



If a word can be written in several ways (using British and American spelling conventions, for example), and/or you do not know the exact spelling, you can mask (disguise, hide) a certain letter in the word. You do this by putting a question mark or asterisk in the place of the letter that you’re unsure about.

Examples of masking:
When you type organi*atin, the search engine will search for both organisation and organization.

When you type licen*e, the search engine will search for both license and licence.


To truncate means to leave out part of a word. This is replaced by an asterisk (*) or question mark (?), also known as a wildcard. This option expands your search result! The disadvantage is that the results may be less relevant, because your search term was less specific.

It can be worthwhile using truncation in PiCarta and the HAN catalogue. You should use the question mark for this (?).

Example of truncation: psych?: the search engine will search for psyche, psychiatrist, psychiatry, psychologist...

The most commonly-used truncation signs are *, ?, !, #. Check which sign should be used for each information source.