Principles of Good Searching Apply

You can use these search tips for almost any interface you encounter. These will often work just as well on Google, Amazon, or any other website. Your goal is to try to find the best place to search, and then to create a good search. 

Google has an Advanced Search

Advanced Searching

Databases look for your keywords in the title, summary, or subject terms of articles, essays, book chapters and, in some cases, books. Some databases will also search in the full-text.

Sometimes the first keywords you enter work brilliantly. Other times, you have to do a little finessing!

  • Narrow your search by adding terms and phrases - college success AND strategies
  • Focus your search by placing quotation marks around phrases - college AND "study habits"
  • Broaden your search to include variant terms (synonyms) by placing OR between similar/related terms, e.g. (benefit OR value)
  • Use an asterisk * to find variant endings, e.g. success* finds success and successful
  • Build a search through combinations, e.g. college AND "study habits" and (benefit OR value)

Exact Phrase

Some databases won't necessarily interpret adjacent words as a phrase. This can explain seemingly irrelevant search results. For example, a search for study habits and freshmen could also find articles like this --

"The Effects of Residence on the Eating and Exercise Habits of College Freshmen in US"
.... The purpose of this study was to compare and investigate the effect of residence on the levels of physical activity, diet patterns, and health-related habits between college freshmen who live on and off-campus.

Solution? Place quotation marks around your phrases, e.g. "study habits" and freshmen!

Exclude Terms

Excluding terms, by adding NOT, or sometimes AND NOT is a way of filtering out unwanted results.

Build a search through combinations

When you locate new subject terms through your searches, you can add them together in the search boxes to broaden or narrow your search. You don't have to change your search each time. You can add new words and phrases that you come across as you learn more about your topic. 

Natural language

What is a natural language query? Natural language searches formulate full questions or sentences when querying. I might type: where can I buy good sneakers? 

But that search won't be as effective, and not all search interfaces work with natural language. Using specific terms or keywords in combination will usually lead to better results. 

Broaden your search with OR

Example: Use OR between similar terms to broaden your search, e.g. ,

"liberal arts" and value finds 54 entries in the library catalog, each containing the phrase "liberal arts" and the term "value"

"liberal arts" and (value OR benefit) finds 65 results, broadening the the search to find articles with the phrase "liberal arts" and either term, value or benefit, such as ...

Roth, Michael S. Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014.
"Contentious debates over the benefits-or drawbacks-of a liberal education are as old as America itself...


Searches can be performed using the wildcards:

  • ?                     
  • *

So what's a wildcard? 

The ? will match any one character and can be used to find Olsen or Olson by searching for Ols?n

The asterisk (*) will match zero or more characters within a word or at the end of a word. 

More search tips...

If you want more search tips, please see our library webpage at: