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Research Process: 2e. Search Strategies

No matter what stage of the research process you're at--only beginning, stuck in the middle, or finishing up with citation polishing--this guide is a great resource for you.

Search Strategies

2e. There are two main ways to search a database, catalog, or website for information: keyword or subject.

  • The easiest way to search for information electronically is to enter a couple of keywords into the search box of the resource and see what type of results you get. This strategy, however, will often result in too few, too many, or irrelevant results. 
  • If you run into problems with your keyword search, you may want to jump into the formal language of the database. This is known as a subject search. The words are generally ones you look up in a database's thesaurus.

Search Strategies

If your initial search query does not produce the desired results, try these search strategies.

Search Strategies Examples
Queries are not case sensitive.

Barack Obama and barack obama will retrieve the same results.

 

Results will typically include each word or punctuation mark included in the search query. Some stop words or exceptions apply.

 

Keep search queries simple and descriptive and use as few terms as possible. Avoid natural language queries as they can limit your results.
 

Use colorado statehood instead of when did colorado first become a state.

Google automatically truncates search terms. To prevent automatic truncation, use a + sign in front of each term.
 

A query on child retrives results with 'children" and "childcare".

Use double quotations marks ("") to search terms as a phrase and narrow your results. Google will only retrieve results that have those exact terms in the exact order typed.

A query on Barack Hussein Obama II will retrieve only those sites that refer to Obama by his full name. Sites that refer to him as simply 'Barack Obama' may be overlooked.

Use the site: feature to limit your results to a specific website or class of websites.

The query cloning site:online.wsj.com will only retrieve articles about cloning from the online version of the Wall Street Journal. A query on cloning site:.gov will only retrieve results within the government domain.

To allow for either of several words to appear in your results, use the OR operator. The operator must be in all caps.

A query on hotel OR lodging OR inn directories will retrieve any or all of the types of directories mentioned.

Tips, Tricks, and Shortcuts

Boolean searching is the traditional way to search for information in most online databases and on the Internet. Boolean operators or connector words, such as AND, OR, and NOT, are used to create phrases and concepts based on specific rules of search logic.  

Operator Examples Results
AND


business AND ethics
cooking AND Spain

Retrieves records that contain     
ALL of the search terms.
OR


hotels OR motels
www OR world wide web
theater OR theatre

Retrieves records that contain
ANY of the search terms, but
does not necessarily include
all of them.
NOT


java NOT coffee
Clinton NOT (William OR Bill)    

Excludes records containing
the second search term.

Truncation or wildcard symbols can broaden your search and allow you to look for variations of words. For example, searching on sport* would bring up variations such as sport, sports, sporting, sporty, etc. 

Note: The truncation symbol varies depending on the electronic resource you are searching. For more information, consult the database’s “help” or “search tips” pages.

CONTINUE...

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