Skip to Main Content

Capstone Guide

Search Tips

Boolean Operators

Boolean Operators are words that help you craft better searches. 

The operators AND, OR, and NOT are explained below:

AND lets you see where two topics overlap.

Detroit AND bankruptcy finds everything that has both the term "Detroit" and the term "bankruptcy"

OR lets you search for more than one term.

Software Engineers OR Programmers finds everything that has either the terms "software engineers" or "programmers"

NOT lets you exclude a term.

Michigan NOT Auto Industry finds everything that has the term "Michigan" but does not contain "auto industry"

For more information on Boolean operators, see our Search Techniques, Part 1 Tutorial.

Keyword vs. Subject

Keyword Vs. Subject Searches
  Keyword Search Subject Search
Description Keyword searches are similar to Google searches in that the database will look for the words you use wherever they may be on a page. Regardless of whether the word is in a title, author name, place of publication or footnote, the page will be returned as a result. Subject searches, on the other hand, only return results in which the term being used appears in the subject field. Searching in the subject is similar to searching by tags on your favorite blog – different pages have different subject "tags."
Search For Records that have the search term anywhere within them. Records that have the search term in the subject headings part of that record.
Results Depending on the terms you use, searches may retrieve no results or thousands. Searches with general terms often return many results. Varies widely. Some searches will retrieve hundreds of results, but, if you choose a nonexistent subject term, you will get none.
Relevance Varies. Results may be completely unrelated to your topic. High as long as you identify the correct subject for your topic.
Flexibility High: Terms can be combined in complex ways to design effective searches. The flexibility of your search is limited by the manner in which subjects are structured in the database that you are searching.

For more information on keyword and subject searching, see our Search Techniques, Part 2 Tutorial.

Are your sources...


Who is the author and publisher?

A university press or professional organization may indicate authority. A periodical with the “journal” in the title usually indicates greater complexity and depth of articles than a popular magazine.

  • Has the instructor mentioned the author or creator of the source?
  • Have you seen the author mentioned in other sources?
  • Is the author affiliated with a reputable institution, organization, or association?
  • What are the author’s credentials (education, experience, etc.) and/or bias or viewpoint? 

A page's URL can also give clues:

  • Organization: .org
  • Educational institution: .edu
  • Government entity: .gov
  • Commercial firm: .com


How do you know if your sources are scholarly?

  • Are the main points clearly stated in a logical order, and arguments well-supported?
  • Does the author present alternative viewpoints, and is it clear when the author’s opinions are being stated?
  • Is the information factual? Can it be verified? Are there references or a bibliography included?

Check for advertisements.

Ads, especially in the middle of articles, may indicate that a periodical is more popular than scholarly. Illustrations, such as tables, graphs, or charts, should add to the textual information. Illustrations used for entertainment purposes or to draw the eyes may indicate the source is more popular than scholarly.


How do you know if your information is current enough?

Very current sources need to be used when the field or topic is changing rapidly. Use historical sources when appropriate.

When was the source published?

Locate the date in a book or journal by looking for the copyright information. On a website, look for the "last updated" information.

For more information on evaluating your sources, see our Selecting Appropriate Digital Sources Tutorial.