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Online Search Tips

All search engines and databases operate differently. Here are some basic search strategies that can get you started in any search engine or database:

  • Use search terms, or keywords, that come directly from your research topic or homework question.
  • Be specific. For example, use the term Greyhounds rather than dogs.
  • If your search results are too narrow, use more general keywords. For example, instead of using the terms Ireland and historical artifacts, use Ireland and artifacts or Irish artifacts.
  • Search for variations of a word. For example, if the term swim doesn’t bring up good results, try swims or swimming.
  • Search for words that have the same or similar meaning. For example, try different searches with the terms tests, quizzes, and examinations.
  • Use “and” to search for more than one keyword. For example, steroids and sports.
  • Use quotation marks to combine keywords into phrases. For example, “federal budget”.
  • Use “or” to search for results that contain either keyword. For example, housing and Vancouver or Calgary.
  • Consult the “Help” or “About” feature provided by most search engines and databases.

More on Internet Searching

  • Evaluate the websites that you find. Try to determine the source of the site and the validity of its content. For example, a university website may provide more unbiased information than a commercial website.

Advanced Database Searching

Databases usually provide more options for advanced searching. Here are some tips that apply to most databases.

  • Search for word variants with the use of a wildcard, such as an asterisk or question mark. For example, a search for swim* will search for the terms swim, swims, swimmers and swimming. Wildcards vary among databases, so consult the “Help” or “About” feature for more information.
  • Most databases provide subject headings that are relevant to your search, although they may be simply called “subject” or “suggested topics”. Click on a subject heading to conduct a new search, or combine the subject heading with your original search to narrow down the results.
  • Limit your search by time period. For example, search only articles that were published in the last 3 months, or choose a specific date range.
  • Limit your search by publication. For example, EBSCO Host can be directed to search only Consumer Reports magazine.