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International Social Work year 1 - searching and finding reliable literature: 2. Effective search strategies

Combined search with AND, OR, NOT (Boolean search)

Searching with the so-called Boolean operators AND, OR and NOT helps you find a manageable number of search results that are also sufficiently relevant to your question (quantity/quality).

The search results below are all written in bold. What do AND, OR and NOT do with your search result?

AND operator (search: "social support" AND "multiproblem families")
Results: pages containing both terms.








OR operator (search: "multiproblem families" OR "dysfunctional families")
Results: pages containing at least one of the 2 terms. So you can do both.








NOT operator (search: "dysfunctional families" NOT "alcohol addiction")
Results: pages containing the term "dysfunctional families" but not the term "alcohol addiction".












The Boolean operators are AND, OR and NOT, but every source of information has its own way of writing these. So AND can also be written as + and NOT as -. Check the help function in your information source for how to write them.

E-learning clip

Research question en search strategy


When you truncate you leave out part of the 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 results can be less relevant because your search term was less specific.

Truncation can be useful in various resources, including HANQuest, and the HAN catalog.

Example of truncation:
child?: a search will now be done for a bunch of other terms as well, like children, childhood, childcare.....

Most information sources only offer the option to truncate on the right, meaning at the end of the word. The most commonly used characters for truncation are *, ?, %, #. Check in each information source which characters they use.


If a word can be written in several ways (e.g. using British and American spelling conventions), and/or you do not know the exact spelling, you can mask (disguise, hide) a certain letter in the word. You enter a question mark or asterisk where the letter you’re unsure about should be. Check the Help function of the information source to see which characters you need to use.
Examples of masking:
When you type organi*ation, 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.

Double quotion marks

By putting 2 or more search terms in double quotation marks, you indicate they should appear in this exact order in the search result.
You can use this for example when searching for a first and last name.
Keep in mind that 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 double quotation marks before and after the words.
An example of how to use double quotation marks: “Autism spectrum disorder” or "Bram Visser".

Create search strings (PPT)