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Key Words

How to Develop Key Words:

First, identify your research question.

Does childhood trauma play a role in drug use?

Childhood trauma and addiction are main concepts in this research question. These are the words you would use in a search.

Next, think of alternative concepts and keywords.

childhood trauma and addiction

Keyword Tips:

  • If your search terms include an acronym, be sure to try spelling the acronym out. For example, you might use PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder or posttraumatic stress disorder.
  • Use quotes if you want to search a specific phrase. For example, the phrase immigration policy will return results with either of the individual terms anywhere in the text. Adding quotes ("immigration policy") will make sure your results have the exact phrase you searched for.
  • An asterisk, or wild card, will look for variations of the root word. It is usually used at the end of a word. A search for librar* would include library, librarian, libraries, and librarians. Alternatively, *place would find displace and misplace.
  • Think creatively about your keywords. Instead of teenager, you might use adolescents, young adults, high school students, or something else.


Operators help create a more specific search string and get to the material you need. Here's how they work. Scroll to the bottom of the box for Frequently Asked Questions.

childhood AND addiction Results will contain both terms. And is used to narrow search results.


Childhood OR adolescence Results will contain either term. Or will increase the number of search results.


children NOT teenagers Results will contain the first term but exclude the second term. Not will decrease the number of results.

How many operators can I use at once?
You can use multiple operators at once. For example, you could search for childhood trauma and addiction not alcohol. This would give you information on childhood trauma and addiction but exclude results with the term "alcohol." 

How can I use operators in the catalog?
From the library's homepage, select Advanced Search. This search feature has drop boxes where you can select which operators you would like to use.

Can I use these on Google?
Yes, you can! Go to When typing operators in Google, make sure you capitalize the operator. (Example: childhood trauma AND addiction)