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University Libraries

Creating a Search Strategy

Read How -  Keyword | Subject | Author | Title


To locate research materials you must either use a catalog or an online database. This section of the Research Tips website shows the basics of using a catalog or online database through examples, and explains the basic concept of searching by keyword, subject heading, author, and title.

Call Numbers

All items in the catalog are assigned a unique group of letters and numbers called call numbers. Call numbers are used to classify materials and tell you their locations on the shelf. The UB Libraries use the Library of Congress Classification System when assigning call numbers to books and other materials in the libraries.  For example: 

For the book Gender & Utopia in Advertising by Luigi and Alessandra Mance, the call number is listed in the catalog as HF5827 .G46 1994. The call number will appear on the book spine on the library's shelf as follows:

LML The library that the book is located in
HF The subject class and subclass of the book  (H=Social Sciences and HF= Commerce)
5827 The classification number  (Advertising)
.G46 Usually indicates the author or keyword(s) from the title (Gender)
1994 Year of publication

Search by Keywords or All Fields

What are Keywords?

Keyword or All Fields searching is the most common form of online searching and should be used when you need to know what materials the library or database contains on a specific topic. You should search by keyword if you are unsure about the author or title of an item. Keywords are significant words used to describe information in a catalog, database or search engine. The keywords you choose for searching have a large impact on how many relevant records are retrieved.

Basic Keyword Searches

When a basic keyword search is performed, the system locates words and phrases throughout the bibliographic record, which is the information about a book or other item that is listed in a library catalog or database.

Keyword searches are especially useful when:

  • you have incomplete title or author information
  • your topic combines two or more concepts
  • you do not know the exact subject headings for your topic
  • you want to link terms from different parts of a record, such as an author's name and a word from a book title

To search by keyword, enter one or more search terms.

  • media influence
  • body image
  • united states
Shortening Search Terms

A search word or keyword can be truncated or shortened, to retrieve singular, plural and variant spellings. Use the symbol * at the end of the keyword fragment. Be careful of truncating too far. To search for variations of the word advertise (advertisements, advertising etc.):

  • advert* (will retrieve too many unrelated results)
  • advertis* (retrieves advertisers, advertise, advertising, advertisement, advertisements)

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators help to narrow or broaden your search. The most useful logical connectors are AND, OR, NOT.

AND finds records containing both terms. This narrows the search. For example:

  • media influence AND body image
  • female AND advertis*

OR finds records containing either one or both terms. This broadens the search. It can also be used to account for variant spellings. For example:

  • image or identity
  • United States OR America

NOT finds records containing the first term, but not the second term. This narrows the search. For example:

  • adolescents NOT male
  • advertisements NOT commercials

You can use more than one logical connector in the same search statement.

  •  media influence AND adolescents NOT male

When to Use Parenthesis

Use parenthesis when your search includes synonyms or to prioritize searches. (The search inside the parentheses is executed first)

  • (image or identity) and media influence

Search by Subject Heading

Subject headings are words given to books that describe what the book is about. This gives the user the ability to find other books and materials related to the same topic. The Library of Congress Classification System (LC System) is used to organize books in most university libraries throughout the United States including the UB Libraries where library catalogers have assigned these subject headings to books and other materials listed in the UB Libraries Catalog.

Use Subject Search when you know the correct subject heading from Library of Congress or National Library of Medicine.

Proper nouns (persons, places, organizations) may be searched as subjects:

  • For items about Gertrude Stein, type stein gertrude
  • For items about Chicago, Illinois, type "chicago ill"
  • For items about the National Organization for Women (NOW), type national organization for women

Some subject headings contain subdivisions.

  • marketing--united states
  • stereotypes (social psychology)--history
  • mass media--influence

Do not abbreviate or omit words within a subject heading.

*Exception: You must use the abbreviation dept when you search for government departments.

  • If the Library of Congress Subject Heading is Mass Media and Teenagers do not type mass media teenagers or mass media and teenagers. You must use quotation marks and not omit any words: "mass media and teenagers"
  • If you need items about the United States Department of Health and Human Services, type us dept of health and human services

Search by Author

An author search looks for a personal name, organization, conference, or government body.

Personal names include authors, editors, illustrators, composers, etc. If you know the author's name choose the Author(Last Name First) search option. Type author's last name followed by first initial. Omit accent marks and all other punctuation (including commas) in the author's name.

  • To find books by Charles Dickens, type dickens c
  • To find books by John Dos Passos, type dos passos j
  • To find books by Miranda Weston-Smith, type weston-smith m or weston smith m

TIP : For common last names, type the entire first name rather than just the first initial.

If you are unsure of the author's name try the Author Keywords search option.

Names of organizations and institutions can be searched as authors.

  • For items authored by IEEE, type institute of electrical and electronics engineers
  • For items authored by The International Society for Music Education, type international society for music education

Conference names can be searched as authors.

  • For the conference of European Congress of Cardiology, type european congress of cardiology
  • For the White House Conference on Aging, type white house conference on aging

Government bodies , subcommittees, departments and offices can be searched as authors.

  • For items by the Buffalo Area Chamber of Commerce, type buffalo area chamber of commerce
  • For items by UNESCO, type unesco

TIP : You must use the abbreviation dept when you search for government departments.

  • For items by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, type united states dept of health and human services

Search by Title

Title searches can include titles of books, journals, plays, government documents, musical scores, etc.

To search for titles omit articles (a, an, the) and their non-English equivalents when they appear at the beginning of a title.

  • To locate Die Fledermaus, type fledermaus
  • To locate Le Petit Prince, type petit prince
  • To locate The Shining, type shining

Do not abbreviate words in a title search although you may truncate, or shorten, the last word.

  • To locate The American Journal of Education, type american journal of education


  • american journal of educa

Capitalization, punctuation and accents are not necessary.

  • im ok youre ok


  • i'm ok, you're ok

If the title includes a hyphen (-), include it in your title search, or leave a space.

  • cold-formed steel in tall buildings


  • cold formed steel in tall buildings

Title searches can also include series titles.

  • For titles in the Earthquake Hazards Reduction Series, type earthquake hazards reduction series
  • For titles in Lecture Notes in Mathematics, type lecture notes in mathematics

Periodical Title Searches

If you know the periodical title, volume number and page number for an article of interest, follow the instructions below.

Search the E-Journals tab by doing a title search for the title of the periodical. Do not search for the title of the article. Some databases will identify the journal title as " Source ".

  • To locate the journal Scientific American, type scientific american
  • To locate the Journal of Marriage and the Family, type journal of marriage and the family
  • To locate The New York Times, type new york times