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Mathematics: Search Strategies

News: OneSearch

New library discovery service, OneSearch is now live! OneSearch replaces the previous library catalog and lets you search books and articles with one search!

Find out more on this guide:

View a video tutorial on OneSearch at this link:


The fastest way to start your research is to choose a database and type in your term, similar to how we start a search in Google or another search engine. The result is often the same: hundreds or thousands of results, many of which aren't really what you are looking for. How can you get better search results? And which library databases should you use?

Getting started with library research

The library's online catalog is a great database for starting your research. The library catalog is multidisciplinary and will help you find books, videos, and journals on your topic as well as get a sense of the range of topics within your search.

Your next step may be to find journal articles. These are found in one of the library's many subscription databases. This guide also has lists of recommended databases for your research. The search techniques you learn through using the catalog can be applied to searching an article database. One advantage of an article database is that you can choose one that focuses on a specific subject.

Searching 101: Single word searching and filters

To get started with a search, type your topic into the search field and press enter. For example, type math into the library catalog. Make a note of how many results you get. This number can be found at the top of the results list.

Replace the math search term with math* and press enter. How many results do you get this time?

The * is an example of truncation, and is helpful when you have a search term such as math, which could be listed as math, maths, or mathematics. This technique helps you to get as many results as possible - but be aware that you may also pick up additional endings, such as mathematical.

But are you going to browse through thousands of results?

To get more relevant results, take a look at the filters located to the left of the catalog's search results.

  • Scroll down until you see Topics listed in the filters.
  • Click on Show more and select one of the topics listed.

You should now have far fewer results to browse and can select additional filters until you have a more manageable list of titles to select from.

Now try a search on a topic of your choosing, or select a topic from the list on this page.

Searching 102: Using AND and OR

To get even more relevant results, use AND and OR to build your searches. Many databases make using these terms easier by having multiple search boxes that use AND to connect them (so you can use OR inside the search boxes to group similar terms).

You can also create your search all in one line: (statistics or probability) and history

Example Search Terms for Mathematics

  • Algebra
  • Applied mathematics
  • Calculus
  • Equation or Equations
  • Fractals or Fractal
  • Functional analysis
  • Geometry
  • Knot theory
  • Mathematic* AND history (searches mathematic, mathematics, mathematical, mathematician/s, linked to history)
  • Mathematical logic
  • Mathematical optimization
  • Mathematical programming
  • Mathematician* AND biograph* (this search finds biographies of mathematicians)
  • Number* AND mathematic*
  • Polynomials
  • Probabilities
  • Pure mathematics
  • Statics
  • Statistics or Mathematical statistics
  • Stochastic*
  • Topology
  • Trigonometry