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Information Literacy Research Skill Building: Help Searching: Expanding Your Search Using the OR Command Podcast

This guide contains information literacy instructional materials based on the ACRL Information Literacy Standards.

Help Searching: Expanding your search using the OR command

Save yourself search time using the command OR the *

We’re going to talk today about how you can save search time using the command OR and the * command.

You have your research topic. You have made a list of the words and phrases that your authors may have used to talk about your research topic. You have chosen the database that you want to use. You’re ready to start searching.

You could do separate searches using each word. But that is a lot of work. There is an easier way.

Let’s say you are looking for information about tidal waves. You know that they are also called tsunamis. Instead of doing one search on tsunamis and another on tidal waves, combine them into one search.

Go to the search box for the library catalog, article index or google and type in tidal waves OR (that’s O R) tsunamis.

The OR command tells the computer that, for the purposes of this search, tsunamis and tidal waves are the same thing. The computer will give you everything that it finds containing either of these words.

You will get
  • The tsunamis that hit Japan in 2006
  • Tidal waves are a favorite scenario of the action film industry
But lets say that you are looking for volcanic activity. Your authors could use

You could type in volcano OR volcanoes OR Volcanic OR volcanism. But that’s a lot of work.

This is where the * command can help you.
The asterisk tells the computer that you are looking for all words that start with a particular string of letters. Type in volcan* as a single string of letters - no space between volcan and the *

You will get volcano (singular), volcanoes (plural), volcanic, volcanism, as well as Volcan (the God of Fire & Iron)

As you see, truncating words using the * can result in some odd hits. But if you are careful about where you truncate a word you can usually limit this problem.

Now, If we think about our first search on tsunamis, we can see that the * command can help us there also.
Tidal wave* will give us tidal wave (singular) as well as tidal waves. (plural)
Tsunami* will give us tsunami (singular) as well as tsunamis (plural).

Our search will now look like this. Close your eyes if it will help you visualize.
Tidal wave* OR tsunami*
Remember - the * is not separate from the word you typed.

This search will give us
  • Tidal waves are a hazard to coastal communities
  • The tidal wave hit Java resulting in unimaginable devastation
  • The tsunami that resulted from the great Alaska earthquake
  • Coastal communities in Japan suffer from many tsunamis
Make it easy on yourself! Use the command OR, as well as the * command to combine the words that your authors may have used when talking about your topic.

Good Searching
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