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CHEM 187: Foundations of Teaching & Learning Science (Winter 2024): Search Strategies

Brainstorm keywords and alternate keywords (synonyms) you might want to search. You may not necessarily search all of these terms, and you'll likely come up with more once you begin searching.

Your topic learning communities retention science
Alternate keywords learning community
learning networks
communities of practice
dropping out (preventing)


  • Are you focusing on specific groups of students in your research?  For example:
    • college/higher education, community college, secondary, high school, K-12, elementary
    • freshmen, lower-division, upper-division, women/girls, first-generation, underrepresented minority students
  • Words like impact, effect, and influence may not add much to your search.
  • The value of adding "education" (as in science education, chemistry education, etc.) to your search will vary depending on the database. For databases like Web of Science that cover all disciplines, you will need to narrow with words like learning, teaching, education, etc. Otherwise, searching STEM without limiting to education could give you articles on stem cells.

Use "and" and "or" to connect your search terms, to expand or narrow your search results. These may be called Boolean operators.

Boolean Operator For Example What Happens to Your Search Results? Visualized

retention AND enrollment

science AND stem AND chemistry

Retrieves results that include all/both words or phrases

More targeted, but also fewer (maybe too few) results


retention OR enrollment

science OR stem OR chemistry

Retrieves results that include at least one of your words or phrases, but not necessarily all of them

Retrieves a *lot* of results, many of which will not be relevant.

(retention OR enrollment) AND (science OR stem OR chemistry)

With many databases, the "and" is assumed even if it's not typed, so climate change = climate and change. There are a few that may search the words as an exact phrase, where climate change = "climate change."  Each database has a help menu that you can consult if you need more guidance on searching.

Truncation (usually with an asterisk, *) allows you to search for words with multiple endings without having to write each one. For example:

Keyword Searches
educat* educate OR educates OR education OR educator OR educators...
chem* chemical OR chemistry OR chemist OR chemist OR chemicals...

However, retain* would search retain, retains, or retained, but not retention. You could search retention OR retain* instead

Each of our databases offers options to narrow your research results, saving you time by excluding results that don't meet your search criteria. For example, you may only want to see English-language journal articles published in the last five years. Applying limits will filter out results that don’t meet your search requirements, saving you time.

Common limits include publication date, document type, language, peer-reviewed/scholarly materials only, and by subject. But each database may additional limits, such as limiting by education level in ERIC, or review articles in Web of Science rather than just journal articles that would include research and review articles.

For example, this search in ERIC:
Every record, whether it's for a book in the library catalog, or for a journal article in one of the databases, has been assigned one or more subject headings. Even if you don't know the best subject headings when you start searching, they will come up as you find relevant books and articles from your keyword searches. The subject headings are usually hyperlinked, so you can click to them find the other articles or books where that subject was assigned.




An abstract is a brief summary of the article: what the authors did and what they found out. It also serves as marketing, because it's a chance for the authors to tell you why you should read it. The abstract should clearly tell you whether the authors conducted their own experiment or study, or completed some kind of review/synthesis of the existing research. It's usually clear from the abstract (see what's in red). The abstract may also include additional keywords and phrases you want to search, such as the words here boxed in black.

When you find a good article, you can advantage of the database's "Related Records" feature to find articles that may be similar to your article. The related articles are often based on common subjects or keywords with your record, but Web of Science uses common cited references, retrieving papers whose authors cited the same papers cited in your article.