Tip: Simple Search vs Advanced Search

Almost all catalogs and databases have a single search box called "easy" or "quick" or "Simple Search" and another option called "Advanced Search" which has three boxes and lots of other options.

Often the options of the "Advanced Search" will prompt you to design a more efficient and fruitful search.

Tip: Truncation & Phrases

Phrase searching

Almost all library catalogs and databases allow the use of quotation marks which keeps the words together as a phrase. Example "The Oxford Classical Dictionary."  Searching by this phrase results in fewer hits and better than searching on those words separately.


Another incredibly powerful feature is truncation which allows a system to search for variants of a word. Example: laugh* means the system will search for laugh, laughs, laughing, laughter, etc.

Tip: Subject vs Keyword


  • The word is found anywhere in the item--title, author, abstract, summary, notes, description, publisher, and sometimes full text when it's available
  • More hits & sometimes worse

Subject words

  • Library catalogs use Library of Congress terminology; most databases have their own terms, sometimes called descriptors, which are often similar but not exactly the same as library catalogs.
  • Less hits & better

A good rule of thumb is to pay attention to the subject words in your results and use them to refine your search strategy.