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Search Tips & Tricks

How to maximize your search results in library databases and Google!

Strategic Exploration

Use these tips to search better and find what you need more efficiently.

While different databases might have slight differences in their use of these terms, the goal is always the same: the more thorough your search string, the more relevant your search results will be, which saves you the time of looking through articles you know you don't want.

Boolean Operators

Terms that connect keywords to make a search more efficient.
Results that include both concept A and concept B

ex: [strawberry AND banana]

Results of concept A except those that include concept B

ex: [strawberry NOT banana]

Some databases (like Scopus) prefer AND NOT

The results of all of concept A and all of concept B

ex: [strawberry OR banana]

Search Modifiers

Other useful things to use when searching.
Word stems
Wildcard: ?

ex: wom?n = women, woman

Truncation: *
End of word

ex: [engine*] =
engine, engineer, engineering, engineered (etc.)

"Exact phrase"

Also known as "bound phrase". Brings back the term or title within the quotations.

ex: "strawberry smoothie"

(concept A OR concept B) AND concept C

Use parentheses to expand your search string and include more terms.

ex: (strawberry OR banana) AND smoothie

Keywords + Boolean Operators = Search Strings

Use the terms and methods described above to improve your search results.

Let's say you're looking for information on the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the military and the ethical implications thereof. You have a few keywords here:

  • unmanned aerial vehicle(s)
  • military
  • ethics

You also have a number of synonyms or alternative forms of the words:

  • drone(s)
  • defense
  • ethical

Use asterisks to open up a word to single/plural, and use quotes to get the exact term:

("unmanned aerial vehicle*" OR drone*)
=40,620 results in OneSearch (libraries worldwide; 5,396 in Stevens)

Refine by adding the topic of military, opening that to the use of military or defense:

(("unmanned aerial vehicle*" OR drone) AND (militar* OR defense))
=8,832 results in OneSearch (libraries worldwide; 596 in Stevens)

Include the ethical issues of UAVs in defense:

((("unmanned aerial vehicle*" OR drone) AND (militar* OR defense)) AND ethic*)
=381 results (libraries worldwide; 46 in Stevens)

Remember: as in math, the placement of parentheses can change the outcome!

Searching the Internet

The internet is a wild place; here is some useful info to help you search it better.


Search Engines

Search Tips