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Teaching and Learning: Research Refresher

This guide will assist you in conducting research for projects and grants related to teaching and learning.

Reviewing the Basics

Database searching can be difficult if you're unfamiliar with the process or out of practice. But if you’re going to use Library resources and databases to their full potential you need to step up your searching game.

We can help.


In research and journal databases it's important to use keywords instead of sentences for searching. A search string like (complaints about wait times in hospital emergency rooms) won't retrieve any results, whereas a search like (emergency room AND wait time AND complain*) will certainly find some relevant results. 

Before you begin searching, think about reducing your topic to a few of the most important keywords. To help you brainstorm, we've devised a list of common keywords related to teaching. 

Boolean Operators

Boolean Operators are necessary for creating connections between your keywords. Are you looking for several synonyms? Two or more different concepts? Do you want to exclude certain terms? How will you communicate this to the database? Boolean Operators are the answer. 

AND helps to refine searches by forcing the search to retrieve items that contain all of the words it separates. For example, searching “Kitchener AND Waterloo AND Cambridge” returns items that mention all three cities.
OR is an inclusive term that forces the search to retrieve items containing any of the words it separates. For example, searching “Kitchener OR Waterloo OR Cambridge” returns items as long as they mention at least one of the three cities.
NOT forces searches to return items that do not contain terms following the operator. For example, searching “Kitchener NOT Waterloo” returns records that mention Kitchener and not Waterloo.
( )
Brackets function the same way in searches as they do in mathematical expressions: they help us to group terms together when we’re combining operators.

If we don’t use operators, Factiva and other databases assume we’re looking for words as a phrase: immediately adjacent to each other and in the same order. For example, searching “Kitchener Waterloo Cambridge” would force Factiva to look for the phrase “Kitchener Waterloo Cambridge” in each item, leading to less (and less relevant) results.

Wildcard Symbols

Wildcard symbols modify specific words to give our searches more breadth.

* truncates root words, returning items that include your search term, as well as related terms with alternate endings. For example, typing “document*” would return items including document, documents, documented, documentable, etc. * can also be inserted in the middle of words to return alternate spellings — for example, “col*r” would return both colour and color.
? is a single-character wildcard (as opposed to *, which is a multi-character wildcard). Multiple ? can be inserted together to represent two, three, or more characters. For example, m?n would return both man and men (among others), but not mean.

Quotation Marks

Quotation marks can help to give your search greater focus. There's a big difference between searching for (weight AND loss) versus ("weight loss"). Quotation marks conduct a phrase search so that your keywords will be linked together. 

Searching for Books on Teaching and Learning

There are many books related to teaching available through the Library. Here are a few ways to find relevant literature: 

  1. Browsing Online
    • In the Library catalogue under the Advanced Search tab, search for teaching in the subject. Search under the Books tab. 
    • In the Library catalogue, search for CTE or TRACE to find resources located in the CTE Research Library. 
  2. Browsing the Shelves
    • The section of call number ranging from L-LT are related to teaching. Browse the L section of call numbers for books on this topic. NOTE: You will find the majority of these books in the Dana Porter Library.