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Literature Reviews

How to understand and write a literature review for an academic paper or research article.

Strategic Exploration

The language and methods of search engines and databases are similar in some ways, but databases require more structured searching than do search engines.

Below find a breakdown of the different but similar terms used in most library resources and Google, and how to use these terms in your search. See Database Search Help for a list of search help sites for most of our major databases.



Search Term Equivalents: Databases & Search Engines

Term Library Databases Google

ex: [strawberry AND banana]

OneSearch also accepts

ex: [strawberry +banana]

N/A (it's automatically included when 2+ words are listed)


ex: [strawberry NOT banana]

OneSearch also accepts

ex: [strawberry -banana]




ex: [strawberry OR banana]


# (single letter)
$ (multiple letters)

ex: [engine#] = engine, engines

Truncation: *

ex: [engine*] =
engine, engineer, engineering, engineered (etc.)

ex: [lemon * muffins] =
lemon blueberry muffins, lemon poppy-seed muffins
Exact phrase

"Exact phrase"

ex: "mechanical engineering"

"Exact phrase"

Other Searching Tips

Within a site:

ex: [egypt]

Social media search:

Let's Get Boolean

"Boolean" search terms (named for George Boole, 19th century English mathematician) refer to the usage of and, not, and or to unite keywords in search strings. The different terms return different results.

A AND B -- The narrowest: Results that only include both keywords A and B (apple AND orange)
A NOT B -- Results that include A except where B is also mentioned (apple NOT orange)
A OR B -- The broadest: Everything that mentions A and everything that mentions B (apple OR orange)

The more keywords you add into your string, the fewer - and better! - your results will be. You can use parentheses to add more focus to your search.


Keywords + Boolean Operators = Search Strings

Use the terms and methods described above to improve your search results.

Let's say you're looking for information on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the military and the ethical implications thereof. You have a few keywords here:

  • unmanned aerial vehicle(s)
  • military
  • ethics

You also have a number of synonyms or alternative forms of the words:

  • drone(s)
  • defense
  • ethical

Use asterisks to open up a word to single/plural, and use quotes to get the exact term:

("unmanned aerial vehicle*" OR drone*)
=40,620 results in OneSearch (libraries worldwide; 5,396 in Stevens)

Refine by adding the topic of military, opening that to the use of military or defense:

(("unmanned aerial vehicle*" OR drone) AND (militar* OR defense))
=8,832 results in OneSearch (libraries worldwide; 596 in Stevens)

Include the ethical issues of UAVs in defense:

((("unmanned aerial vehicle*" OR drone) AND (militar* OR defense)) AND ethic*)
=381 results (libraries worldwide; 46 in Stevens)

Remember: as in math, the placement of parentheses can change the outcome!