Library resources 101

This guide provides information on using reference tools at the University of Ottawa.



1. Identify key concepts

2. Find synonyms

3. Use search operators

STEP 1 - Identify key concepts

Once you have defined your focused topic, you need to identify the key concepts to prepare a search strategy to use in different search tools.

Here are a few examples:


The effects of beauty product advertisements on teenage girls' self-esteem.

 beauty product advertisements
 teenage girls

The impact of media coverage and public opinion polling on election campaigns.

 media coverage
 public opinion polling
 election campaigns

The success of environmental groups in shaping the public policy agenda in Canada.

 environmental groups
 public policy agenda

STEP 2 - Find synonyms

For each key concept, find synonyms that will be useful when performing keyword searches.

 TOPIC  The effects of beauty product advertisements on teenage girls' self-esteem
 KEY CONCEPTS  beauty products  advertisements  teenage girls  self-esteem


 skin care

To help find synonyms, consider using a thesaurus:

STEP 3 - Use search operators

To find relevant information, you need to translate your topic into a search strategy.

Here is a list of the most common search operators:

AND AND is used between keywords to find
results that contain all of the keywords
propaganda AND china
OR  OR is used between keywords that are synonymous to find results that contain either keyword violence OR aggression
NOT NOT is used to exclude a keyword from the results cloning NOT sheep
" " Quotation marks - " " - are used to find results for exact phrases or expressions "human rights"
* The asterisk - * - is used to truncate a word to find results with various endings environment*
 will find environments,
 environmental, environmentally, etc.
( ) Parentheses - ( ) - are used to group keywords by concept (teenage* OR adolescen*) AND (cigarette* OR nicotine OR tobacco)

Operators may vary from tool to tool. Consult specific help pages within the catalogues and databases for more information.

Search strategy

Use this worksheet to help you prepare your search:

Brainstorm your topic and identify your key concepts

Search Strategy: Synonyms and related terms

You can also view this video on YouTube

Search Strategy: Combining your ideas together