The most commonly used operators are: AND, OR, and NOT. When used in all caps, search engines (Library Search, databases, and Google) recognize them as a specific function. These are best described by using Venn diagrams.
Click the tabs at the top of this box to learn more about each operator.
If you are researching social media but receive too many results about social media users or the social media site itself when you only want information on social media about the experience of influencers, you could use AND to make sure you only receive results with both terms in the item record.
If you are researching something with a name that varies depending on the context, you can use OR to make sure the system is searching all possible versions of that term. For example, some information on LGBTQ+ topics uses the term "LGBTQ" while "homosexual" is more commonly used in medical texts. If you want both, use OR to combine your terms.
If you are searching with a term that is part of a larger term not relevant to your research or that term is also used in a different field, you may need to use NOT to remove results. For example, if you are searching for the portrayal of witches in the media and use the term "witch," you may receive results about The Witcher, a book, video game, and Netflix series. To remove these results, use NOT.
To use NOT in Google searches, use - (minus sign).
Though some Advanced Search features of search engines allow you to have multiple search boxes with drop-down menus for Boolean Operators, you can use multiple operators in single line searches.
( ) Just like in math, parentheses are their own groupings. This part of the search is done before it is combined with any other part of the search.
" " Quotation marks make sure that two or more words are in that exact order or are found with that exact spelling.
* An asterisk functions as truncation. It can be used to find words with multiple endings. For example, teach* will search for teach, teacher, teachers, teaches, and teaching.
? A question mark functions as a wildcard. It can be used to find words where only one letter is changed. For example, wom?n will search for women, woman, womyn, and womxn.
Both of the searches above will function the same even though they are written differently.
Sources can be described as primary, secondary, and tertiary. These categories describe how many layers of interpretation a source has.
Click the tabs at the top of this box to learn about each layer of interpretation.
A primary source is raw information. This can look differently depending on the discipline. In the sciences, raw information could be a data set; in the humanities, raw information could be the piece of art, a manuscript, or sound recording; in the social science, raw information could be a diary, newspaper clippings of an event, or census data.
Primary sources contain the information that is the focus of your research.
While the databases listed below can be used to find primary sources for a variety of topics, some disciplines have specific collections. See a subject guide for more resources.
Secondary sources are interpretations of raw information. They may or may not contain the raw data. For example, an anthology of letters written by a historical figure can contain the primary source of photographs or transcriptions of the original letters and be accompanied by the secondary source of short essays that provide context for the letters. Most books and journal articles will fall into this category.
Secondary sources provide context for the information at the focus of your research.
While the databases listed below can be used to find secondary sources for a variety of topics, some disciplines have specific databases or collections. See a subject guide for more resources.
Tertiary sources are collections of interpretations (secondary sources). Like secondary sources, they may contain parts of primary sources but the purpose of a tertiary source is to give a broad overview of the scholarly conversations around a primary source. These are typically referred to as reference sources like dictionaries, encyclopedias, bibliographies, textbooks, handbooks, literature reviews, etc.
Use tertiary sources to start your research.
While the databases listed below can be used to find tertiary sources for a variety of topics, some disciplines have specific books or databases. See a subject guide for more resources.
Google Scholar is best at understanding the synonyms and context of your keywords. Once you link it to WMU's Library, you can see what articles are accessible through our library databases. It does not have many search filters so it is more difficult to sort through results than in Library Search and databases. This guide will help you link your Google Scholar account to WMU's library resources.