Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Researching at the Library: Create a Search

Research tips, resources, basics, and links to course-specific research guides.

Start Small, Think Broad

There is no one searching standard. Library catalogs, article databases, and Internet search engines all vary in how they process your search and what options they offer. They all also vary in their content and emphasis. No single search engine indexes all of the Internet. This means you need to know different searching tricks for best results.

Start with your research questions. Because many article databases do not process “little words” well, you should break each sentence down. These little words include articles, pronouns, prepositions, and punctuation marks (for example by, through, a, an, I, hers, them, its, were). AND, OR, and NOT are a special case; see the Create Your Search box for more.

Pick only those words that describe in a nutshell what you are looking for and pare them down into base (uninflected) forms. Write these search phrases down in your list of search terms. For example:

Why do cell phones cause so many traffic accidents? pares down to cell phone accident.

Read more at Keyword Searching in Library Databases by C. Niemeyer, University of Missouri-St Louis.

 

Begin with a broad search. For example, death penalty as opposed to influence civil rights death penalty rural Alabama is more likely to find an overview on death penalty.

Look for drop-down boxes that allow you to search specific aspects only (like author, subject, or year). Try all the different terms and phrases collected in your list. Also try the advanced search.

Find Search Terms & Vocabulary

Keywords are terms (words and phrases) used to search electronic databases, online library catalogs, and the Internet for information. Keywords allow you to create an effective search phrase. The first keywords to try should represent the key concepts of your topic.

Think of as many synonyms and alternate phrases as you can, for example death penaltycapital punishment. Write all of them down. When searching, keep track of which words or phrases give you the best results.

Find synonyms with a thesaurus or dictionary. Use built-in thesauri in word processing programs, Thesaurus.com, or Visual Thesaurus.

Wordle can be useful in finding the most important terms in a digital text (an article summary, for instance). Copy&paste the text into Wordle and let the program work its magic.

As you learn more about your topic, you may discover gaps in your arguments that require re-researching and re-thinking your viewpoint. You must answer your research questions. If your paper does not make reference to and provide answers for them, go back and revise.

Researching is a repetitive process. Some breakthroughs are not based on diligent research but chance. Repetitive researching helps you recognize the value of something when you stumble across it.

Create Your Search

Use these tools to with your keywords for more accurate results.


CTRL-F or CMD-F

Use this keyboard shortcut to find a word or phrase on any web page or document. It’s faster than skimming the whole page!


Phrase Searching

Use quotation marks to search your terms as a phrase. This is the simplest thing you can do to improve your results.

NB. Not all search engines, catalogs, or databases support phrase searching, but many do.

For example: “Amazon rainforest” "destruction rate"


Domain Searching

You can use Google Advanced Search to run your search in certain kinds of domains only, or type site:gov, for example, into the search box after your search terms.

Excellent domains to try include for example:

  • .edu
  • .gov
  • .mil

For example: site:gov "military spending"

                    site:thegovernorsacademy.org "weekly menu"

Read more at Evaluating Internet Information by the University System of Georgia.


Truncation

Search for a root word with varying endings.  Use the * or ? symbols, depending on the database.

For example: wom?n (will find both woman and women)

                    diet* or diet? (will find diet, diets, dieting, dietary, dietician, dieticians, etc.)


Forced Inclusion

When your search contains multiple words, search engines often return results that contain only some of your search terms, not all of them. If you want to force Google to include all of your keywords, use the intext: operation.

For example: intext:"San Antonio" intext:Alamo


Boolean Search Operators - AND, OR, NOT

See whether linking terms with AND, OR, and NOT makes a difference in your results. Individual catalogs, databases, and search engines may or may not use them.

AND: fewer but more specific results. Sometimes written as a + sign (plus sign).

Many search engines, including Google, use implied AND.

You might be thinking: all of these words; must contain these words.

OR: more results, more coverage, but less specific results

You might be thinking: any of these words/phrases; at least one of these words; should contain these words.

NOT: exclude a term totally, utterly, and completely. Sometimes written as a - sign (minus sign).

You might be thinking: must not contain the words after NOT; should not contain the words after NOT.

Note: NOT excludes all occurrences of the word in question, and will, therefore, leave out results that may actually be useful. For example, searching radiation NOT nuclear would exclude sources that compare nuclear with other types of radiation, or a document that explains the difference between nuclear and other types of radiation. Remember this limitation if using NOT.


Media Search: Audio, Video and More

Typing filetype:[extension] is useful for limiting your search to particular types of files, such as Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, pdf’s, Word documents and more. Searching video.google.com searches every service, not just YouTube.

For example: filetype:mp3 "united states"

Re-Think as Needed

Also remember that research cannot always be planned – research and writing are closely connected. As you learn more about your topic, you may discover gaps in your arguments that require re-researching and re-thinking your viewpoint. You must answer your research questions. If your paper does not make reference to and provide answers for them, go back and revise.

Researching is a repetitive process.

Some breakthroughs are not based on diligent research but chance. Repetitive researching helps you recognize the value of something when you stumble across it.

Need More Help?

Still have questions? Ask us!

Front desk tel. (978) 499-3136.

Send E-mail to libraryrequests