Skip to Main Content

Education Library Guide: Before you start searching

A guide for Education students

Understanding your topic

Before you begin searching for information, make sure you understand the topic you are researching.   Dictionaries provide definitions of unfamiliar terms, whilst encyclopaedias give more detailed explanations and overviews of topics. 



This will enable you to identify two or three main points or keywords to use when searching for information.   

The secret to finding what you want is having the vocabulary -  different words will find different information ...  so it makes sense to have a pot of vocabulary to try.   

Besides specific terms, consider whether you need to include broader and/or narrower terms, synonyms or even antonyms and different spelling.  Always start by using the most specific terms you can think of to describe your topic.  If you don’t find what you want, then try using broader terms.

Look at the formal subject entries given to books in the catalogue for more vocabulary to use.  And when you find a good article from the electronic databases, then look at the subject headings and keywords given in that article.


       When you have more than one keyword/term/concept, you will need to combine them so that you get the information that you want. 

       What you need to do is to link your keywords/terms/concepts using the words “AND” “OR  NOT  (called Boolean operators) as well as brackets, or truncation and wild card characters.

       Depending on the results you get, you may need to revise your keywords and terms.  


Use    AND   to combine different concepts/terms/keywords.   AND” means “must have somewhere in the record”.   This will give you records where all the keywords/terms/concepts appear. 

e.g.  (educational leadership)   AND   (principals)

         (organi?ational change) AND (school management)


Use     OR    for  alternative terms  (means “any will do”).

e.g.  (educational leadership OR school management) 

          (mentoring OR coaching) 


Use  NOT to exclude terms.  But be careful as you may lose relevant items because some records will contain both the necessary term and the unwanted term,  and the database or catalogue will then ignore that record.    If you decide you have too many results, you can use   NOT  to weed them out, by adding  NOT  xxxx”

e.g.  coaching NOT sports   


Use brackets to separate different concepts from one another or to search for a phrase

e.g. (educational leadership)


Truncation and wildcards are used in place of letters in your search statement.

The truncation symbol *  makes a search term more versatile by expanding it e.g. Africa* will pick up African, Africanisation, Africanization.

The wildcard ? is used to replace letters in the middle of word and can overcome the problem with variant spelling (which can really affect the results you get)  e.g. globali?ation will pick up globalisation and globalization;  wom?n will pick up women and woman;  colo?r will pick up colour and color; organi?ation will pick up organisation and organization.

So now you are ready to search for books and articles and on the internet ...