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POLS-590 / POLS-860


Welcome to the POLS-590/POLS-860 library course guide.

The learning outcomes of this guide are as follows:

  • identify political studies resources using the library's website; and
  • refine research skills by learning to develop advanced search strategies and apply them in subject-specific indexes.

Proceed through the five sections to learn more (sections are various lengths):

  1. Introduction: Some introductory remarks and a quick overview of this guide.
  2. Finding Sources. A general orientation to doing research with library tools that includes tips for finding information using the collections at Queen's Library but also useful checklists for evaluating information prior to use.
  3. Writing your paper.
  4. Citing Sources.
  5. Conclusion: Where to go for research help.

Keyword Searching

When conducting research, the key to successful searching is not in the quantity of search results, but rather how relevant and appropriate they are to the topic. Whether you are searching Google, the library search tool (Omni), or subject-specific databases such as Political Studies @ Proquest there are some common search techniques to improve the efficiency of the search results.

In this module, we will look at strategies for constructing an effective search in a library database. Aspects of searching to be covered here include:

  • choosing keywords
  • synonyms (equitable OR fair)
  • Boolean operators (and/or/not)
  • parentheses
  • phrases ("common law," "Gulf War")
  • truncation (politic? = political, politics)

Choosing Relevant Search Terms

Break down the question/topic into keywords and phrases:

  • Guatemala, developing countries
  • Canadian state / Canada
  • regulation
  • Canadian mining companies

Now, think about whether there are other terms that could also be used to describe the topic, including synonyms, related terms, or words and phrases that have similar meaning.

Note: Most databases use American spelling, so, when applicable, you should search for both versions of a word
(e.g. labour, labor).

Boolean Logic: It is, indeed, worth knowing!

Once you have identified the keywords and phrases that describe your topic, the next step is to connect them in a logical way that most databases will understand - this is accomplished with the use of Boolean operators: AND, OR, NOT.

Understanding how databases interpret your keywords will allow you to execute more specific searches, thereby saving you time while retrieving more relevant results. (A database's help pages will indicate how to construct Boolean searches and which wild-cards the database supports.)

NOTE: Omni requires OR to be capitalized e.g. habitat OR ecosystem

Used for
What it Does


when you want to find material containing two or more concepts

using AND between keywords means that both terms must appear somewhere in the record

narrows your search


Guatemala and mining



when you want to find material containing either or any of the keywords

use OR to combine synonyms and related terms

broadens your search


Guatemala or "Central America"


use NOT to exclude a concept or word from the search

use NOT sparingly, if at all, because you could end up excluding useful search results (e.g. articles or books that discuss both concepts)

narrows your search




Guatemala not Mexico


This is perhaps the single most valuable search refinement tool and can be used in most search interfaces...even Google! By enclosing a multi-word phrase in quotes, the database must interpret the words in that exact order. Search results will be greatly reduced because the results won't be pages that have each word in the document in varying locations, but have to be exactly as typed in precisely that proximity.

"third world countries"
"developing countries"

Nested Searching

Whenever you have more than one Boolean operator, such as AND and OR, in a search statement, it is necessary to separate them with parentheses. This "nested searching" tells the database the proper order in which to search for the keywords. Operations enclosed in parentheses are performed first followed by the operators outside the parentheses. For example:

("third world countries" OR "developing countries"


In many library databases you can use a truncation symbol to broaden a search. Truncation is like a shortcut. Placed at the end of the root of a word (or word stem), a truncation symbol tells the database to search for variant endings of the word, including plurals and singulars.

Truncation symbols vary between databases. Here are a few to remember:

  • Omni uses *
  • CBCA (and many other databases) uses *

An example of a truncated search in an article database such as Omni would be:


The databases would retrieve results for teen, teens, teenagers, etc.

Be careful when using truncation as it can produce unintended results. For example, a search for cult* retrieves cult, cults, cultivated, culture, cultures, etc. Only truncate back as far as it would be useful and still on topic.

Note: Omni employs the question mark ? as a wildcard symbol for a single character e.g. wom?n = woman or women.

Up next: we will apply these search techniques to searching Omni.