Resources for Water Advocates

Guide for high school students researching to educate citizens of Kansas about water issues and conservation practices.

Library Research Guide

The Advocate's Strategy

Searching is easy, right? Just type thoughts, questions, ideas, words in the box and in milliseconds you get pages of results.

Learning a little about how to search will give you control over the process. You will save time, get results you actually want, and be proud of a search well-done.

Read this page for general information about searching and find tips for specific resources on the next tab (Where to Search).

If you still can't find what you want, it could be time to talk to a friend, mentor, or librarian!

Glossary of Search-Related Terms

K-State Libraries, your school library, the Kansas State Library, and your public library each pay to subscribe to search tools called databases; they are not found in an online search. Their content is created and maintained by various companies and organizations. Searching databases is different from searching the Internet.

  • Keywords: Before you begin, break your topic into key concepts; think about the terminology/keywords you wish to search for and possible synonyms.
  • Advanced Search: Look for the "Guided Search" or "Advanced Search" options so that you have more search boxes.
    • AND = both concepts must be present, helps limit the search (Ex. dry AND farming)
    • OR = great for synonyms  (Ex. "agriculture" OR "farming")
    • NOT = exclude an unrelated term  (Ex. "water" NOT "air")
  • Subject Headings: Look for "Subject Headings," "Subjects," "Keywords" or "Descriptors" to help narrow your search. Different databases may recognize different terms. As you find these tags, construct your search using the language/terminology of that database. 
  • Truncation: Use "truncation": conserv* searches for "conserve", "conservation", "conservative", etc. by adding all possible endings.
  • Wildcard: Use "wildcard" (question mark inside a word): advi*e searches for "advice" or "advise."
  • Help: When you're struggling with finding resources in a particular database, look for its “Help” section or ask a librarian.

Note: These vary from database to database. Google uses the minus sign (-) instead of NOT. Truncation and wildcards might have different symbols. In some databases symbols could represent a different number of letters depending on location in the word. Check the Advanced Search or Help page if you are getting strange results using these.


Before you start your search, it's important to make a list of keywords which are the most significant words to use when looking for materials online or in print.

Good keywords are essential to good research. Many search engines and databases don't understand full sentences.  So you can't enter a topic sentence and expect to get good results. Develop a list of keywords before you start searching.

To start the list, ask yourself two questions:

  1. What do I know about my topic?
  2. What do I want to know about my topic?

Write the answers to those questions using single words or simple phrases. These become your keywords. The more keywords you can think of, the more likely you will find what you are looking for.

To expand or narrow a search using search terms, look for topics, subjects, or a thesaurus on the database. You can also find narrower, related, and broader terms in the Library of Congress Subject Headings.

Wildcards and Operators

Operators AND, OR, and NOT allow you to combine terms and minimize searches

Use OR for synonyms:

effect  OR  influence  OR  impact, conservation  OR  management  OR  protection

This query tells the database that at least one of the words per line must appear in your results.

Use AND to combine terms:

effect  OR  influence OR impact AND  conservation  OR  management  OR  protection

To understand the concept, click on the image below to launch the interactive Boolean Machine.

Image of The Boolean Machine

Wildcards and Truncation (*) The asterisk is generally used as a truncation symbol when placed at the end of a word stem.

effect  OR  influence OR impact AND conserv* OR manage* OR protect*

Be careful not to shorten the word stem so that results are not relevant.  If our example is category, try categ*, instead of cat*, to get category, categories, categorical, etc.


Sort: On most databases you can change the order of the results. Common options include sort by date, relevance, and title.

Filter or refine: Are your results too many or too few? You can broaden or narrow results by changing the search terms and/or using filters. Filters are usually found to the left of the results.

(note: many platforms serve only one database so they do not have the option to choose other databases)

Search results for kansas water quality in GreenFILE database from EBSCO. This screenshot highlights where to choose databases, filter or refine results, and sort results. Note in refine/filter results: "subjects are a great way to narrow your search, this list will also help you find keywords."