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Resources for Writing a Research Proposal: Search Strategies

This guide includes materials to help you write a research proposal.

Brainstorm Search Terms


  1. After you have decided on a topic, write it down in the form of a question or a brief statement.
  • What is the relationship between students’ academic performance and online learning
  1. Take note of the keywords and phrases that are relevant to your topic.
  • “academic performance” and “online learning”
  1. Take those keywords or phrases and come up with related terms, concepts, or synonyms.
  • Academic performance – educational achievement; educational attainment; educational success; student success
  • Online learning – online school;  distance learning; e-learning; virtual learning; blended learning; synchronous learning; web-based learning
  1. Create a search strategy using Boolean search, wild card search, and phrase search.

Using Wildcards and Truncation

Use the wildcard and truncation symbols to create searches where there are unknown characters, multiple spellings or various endings. Neither the wildcard nor the truncation symbol can be used as the first character in a search term.


  • ​​ A question mark (?) or pound/hash sign (#) is used to represent the wildcard.
  • Enter your search terms, including the #, in places where an alternate spelling may contain an extra character to search using a wildcard.
  • The database will search for all citations of the word that include or exclude the extra character.
  • For example, behavio?r will return results containing the words behavior and behaviour.


  • Truncation is a technique that allows you to search for multiple word endings simultaneously.
  • An asterisk (*) is commonly used to represent truncation.
  • Enter the root of a search term and replace the ending with a (*) to use truncation. The database will return all variants of that word.
  • For example,  comput* will retrieve computer and computing.

Phrase Searching

  • Phrase searching narrows your search results by allowing you to specify exactly how you want the words to appear.
  • To ensure that the database searches this correctly, put quotation marks around your search term and force the database to search it as a phrase.
  • When you use quotation marks around your terms, you are searching as a phrase, so your results will include your terms next to each other and in the exact order, you typed them.

For example, “Academic Performance”;  “Online Learning”

Find Background information

Search for Books and More

Boolean Search - "OR"

OR retrieves records that contain any of the search terms. It expands the search. Therefore, use OR in between terms that are synonyms.  For example,  Academic Performance  OR Educational Achievement.


Boolean Search - "AND"

AND returns records that include all  search terms. It narrows or limits the scope of the search   For example,  Academic Performance AND  University Students

Boolean Search - "NOT"

NOT eliminates records that contain a specific keyword or phrase. It narrows or limits the search. To exclude search terms from results, use NOT.  For example, University NOT Secondary school.