Skip to Main Content

University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Improving Your Research Skills

This guide will help you improve your research skills through searching library databases, searching Google, and evaluating sources.

Keyword Searching

Library databases rely on keyword searching rather than question searching. This means you will have to break down your research question into keywords to get the best results.

Tips for Creating and Using Keywords

  • Look for the unique points in your research question; words like “depression,” “cats,” or “mental health” will be more effective than words like “effect.”
  • 2-4 keywords is best for searching library databases.
  • Write down keyword combinations that yield relevant results.
  • Brainstorm some synonyms for your keywords; different authors will use different words to refer to the same idea.
  • Many articles in databases will include subject terms, or words that explain the article’s topic. These can make for great keywords if you are getting stuck!

Boolean Searching

Using words like “AND,” “OR,” or “NOT” will help refine your results. These words are called Boolean operators, and each one serves a different purpose for your research.

Venn Diagram with middle intersection filled in with "mental health" AND "depression"                      


Using AND means that all of your results will include        

both the keyword “depression” and the keyword

“mental health.” AND can help narrow your results.





OR Boolean, with entire Venn Diagram filled in



Using OR means that some of your results will only have the keyword “mental health,” some will only have the keyword “depression,” and some will have both. OR can help broaden your results.






NOT Boolean, with left side of Venn Diagram filled in


Using NOT means that all of your results will include the keyword “mental health,” and none of your results will include the keyword “depression.” NOT is used when you want to eliminate a word that is dominating the conversation.