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Research Tips

Searching Effectively

Tips for Effective Searches

1.  Use multiple words rather than single keywords

2.  Put phrases (words that need to be side-by-side) in quotation marks (") so that you can find an exact phrase in a document. Examples: "global warming", "drunk driving", "fake news"

3. Truncate your word and use an asterisk after it to pick up all forms of the word.  For example, using the search term teen*, would expand the search to include the terms, teen, teens, teenager, teenagers, teenaged

4. Use AND, OR or NOT, also called Boolean operators, to help narrow or expand your hits

  •    Teens AND stress.  Hits will contain both search terms, so you will get articles that contain both words.  This choice will narrow your search and you will get less articles because both terms have to be in each article.
  •    Teens OR "young adults".  Hits will contain just one of the two search terms, so you will get lots of articles because only one of your search terms will be in them.  OR is often used to combine synonyms or like concepts. 
  •    Jaguar NOT car.   Hits will have the word jaguar in them but will not refer to the automobile. NOT should be used sparingly since it can eliminate information that might have been relevant. Other examples: children NOT teens / Mexico NOT "New Mexico"
  • You can combine groups or sets in a variety of ways using the different combinations of Boolean operators. Example:  (high school students OR college students) AND (drugs OR alcohol) 

Google v. Databases

Research Topics Help

Generating Key Words

What is a Key Word?

A Key Word is a word that is essential (or key) to understanding an idea or topic.
They help you identify and discover:
  • important concepts in your research
  • broader terms or narrower terms to help you expand or narrow your topic
  • search terms to use in databases or in search engines
  • They are often nouns and should be root words.
  • Do not use full sentences or questions

How many Key Words should I use?

  • Using more than one Key Word gives you more manageable hits. 
  • Do not use full sentences or questions
  • Remember: A Key Word can be a synonym of another term. 
    • For example:
      • teens or young adults
      • tsunami or tidal wave

Key Words are not...

Stop words such as:

a, about, an, are, as, at, be, by, from, how, I, in, is, it, of, on, that, the, this, to, we, what, when, where, which, with, etc.

Use phrase searching & truncation

Phrase searching - put quotation marks around  a phrase (two or more words that need to be searched side-by-side) "global warming"

Truncation - shorten a word to its root so that you get al variations of the word ex teen* = teen, teens, teenager, teenagers, teenaged, etc.

How do I generate great Key Words?

Use the Brainstorming Keywords worksheet. 
  1. Write down the research problem or question.
  2. Underline the key words in your question.
  3. Use the most important keywords first in the search string
  4. Determine any synonyms or similar terms. 
  5. Incorporate phrase searching, truncation and Boolean operators if needed. 
    • For Example: What animals are used for detecting drugs?
      • Underline animals, detect, drugs
      • animal* detect OR find drug*


Why Can't I Just Use Google?

Using URLs for Effective Searching

Searching for information using just a top level domain

Use Google Advanced Search or type your search term followed by a colon and the domain suffix (for example

    .edu    educational institution

    .com   commercial institution

    .net     network

    .biz      business

    .gov     government

    .mil      military

    .info     information 

    .us, .ca, etc by country

Website Evaluation

Before a book is published, an editor reviews the pages to make sure the content is accurate and the spelling and grammar are correct. Then critics review the book in journals, magazines, and newspapers. Finally, librarians evaluate the book to make sure it's worth using for student research.

But no such review process exists for web pages. Anyone can publish anything to the web at any time. The majority of websites are created by non-experts. That's why it's important for you to carefully evaluate web pages before using the information.

Whenever you surf the web, check these criteria to make sure you're getting high-quality information from a reliable source:

  •  Authority
  • Content
  • Currency
  • Purpose

In order to evaluate the authority of a website, scan the perimeter of the page for author information. Look for the words/phrases: About,  About Us, Authors, Who am I?, or FAQs.


Adapted from MICDS McCulloch Library.