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Systematic Reviews for Business and Management: Search Techniques

Search Techniques

Phrase Searching
Use double quotation marks (“) to search for a phrase. 
 This is useful when you are searching for something specific.


Searching for change management in BCU Library retrieved 8087217 results, using “Change management” as a phrase reduced the number of results to 64265.

Truncation and Wildcards
When thinking about keywords you come across some which could have variations on the ending of that word, or certain words that have different spellings:

Wildcards can be used to replace the word endings, or letters within a word.  The search performed will return all results containing the alternative words.  Wildcard symbols vary in each database.  Each database usually has an index of the symbols available, and where they should be used. 


On BCU library search, wildcards are * and ?.
They cannot be used within phrase " " searching or at the beginning of a word.
An asterisk (*) should be used to represent zero or more characters in the middle or at the end of a word:
Colo?r - colour, color 
Leader* - Leader, Leaders, Leadership.
A question mark (?) should be used to represent one character only in the middle of a word:
Wom*n -  women, woman


Proximity searches limit result sets to terms within a specified number of words from within each other. This is helpful when you want your key words to appear close together but they are not a phrase. 
Many databases allow you to search by proximity.  In a subject database, go the help tab within the database to see how you can do this.

For example on Westlaw you can use the following to search for items within the same sentence  /s 

Stop words

Stop words are the most common words which you'll find in each language. When you search for a stop word, most databases will ignore them during a basic keyword search.

These are just some the words ignored by Library Search: 

A  Are  Few  He

I  Itself  Me  No

Of  She  The  What

If these words are crucial to the meaning of your search, you will need to use quotation marks " " to force the database/search engine to use them.

Here is a list of stop words from multiple languages.


If you search for man of the year, Library Search will ignore the words "of" and "the", meaning it will find any publications mentioning both "man" AND "year".

If you search for "man of the year" with quotations, it will find that exact phrase, including "of" and "the" in that order.

Subject Headings

Some databases will offer thesaurus (or subject heading searching). Whereas the common keyword search is based on an exact word match, a subject or thesaurus search locates records by assigned subject or descriptors.

Searching with controlled vocabulary in a subject index or thesaurus allows you to:

  • more precisely retrieve relevant information on your topic,
  • illustrates relationship between related terms and
  • helps you identify synonyms and broader and narrower terms.

This will give a different search experience from full text searching.

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