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Political Studies Library Guide: Danielle Abrahamse's Search String Design and Search Template

Political Studies Library Guide


Unpacking and understanding a research question/ subject can be daunting, this page aims to help you ease your anxiety around meeting your librarian and starting the first step in the research cycle of your assignment/project/thesis.

The search string template should be done with your librarian, who will demonstrate the ways in which you can apply the guide and demonstrate the practicality of applying it to a database

What is a search string?

A search string is the combination of all text, numbers and symbols entered by a user into a search engine to find desired results.

Search strings are used to find files and their content, database information and web pages. A search string may include keywords, numeric data and operators. 

Additional tips when searching

  • When originally building your search strings, make sure to not limit your coverage. Start with what you need. 
  • Word order doesn’t always matter. When creating a string of independent keywords it doesn’t matter the order in which the keywords or phrases are strung together.
  • Not all databases allow for truncation and wildcards, be sure to check the database first.
  • We recommend searching for all possible spellings of surnames.

Need to identify variables? apply PICO, PICO or SPIDER

Boolean operators

When you use “AND” to combine search terms, this will bring up results that contain both key terms, for example, water crisis and cape town. Articles referring to both those terms together will come up but when you join terms with OR, it will bring up articles that have either or terms. When using “NOT” you are wanting to exclude a term. So, maybe you are interested in elections but NOT America, the use of “not” will exclude literature containing America and elections



Truncation searching lets users find documents containing variations of a root keyword. For example, if we place librar* in a search term we are not limiting our searching to just “library”. We would get the all possible endings to the root ‘librar’: libraries, librarian, librarianship, and so on. Wildcards can be helpful, but they can also increase unwanted coverage and should be used with caution. By asking the database to return all possible endings to a root word, you run the risk of increasing your irrelevant results.


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Jamie-lee Hendricks
Office No. 4
Research Wing, Level 5
Chancellor Oppenheimer Library
+27 21 650 5668
Subjects: Political Studies