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information searching tips

November 21, 2019

Top 5 library search tips to help with your assessments

Knowing how to search effectively is a valuable digital literacy skill and will save you time and frustration in the long run. We have put together some of our top tips to help you on your quest for information as you gear up for your first assessment.

Please note: while these tips should work for the majority of search engines and databases, you can check the tips section of a specific database to get additional help if you need it.

1. Phrase searching produces exact results

If you only want results that turn up two or more words together, such as climate change or global warming, try putting those words together in double quote marks (e.g. “climate change” OR “global warming”). This will show you results with the exact words you’re looking for, and possibly save you filtering through thousands of results for ‘climate’ or ‘global’ alone.

2. Truncation and Wildcards find variations of a word

There are many words that could be relevant to your search in a variety of forms, such as:

You can search for all variations of a word by adding a truncation symbol (*) to the end of the word where the different word form would begin (in this case, adolescen*). The database will then search for all variations.

Similar to Truncation, you can use Wildcards to search for a word that has a known alternative spelling (e.g. American English versus UK or Australian English). You can account for this spelling variation by substituting a character for a single letter in your search term.

In most databases, ? is used to replace one letter

For example: organi?ation (for both organisation and organization)

3. Parenthesis keep search terms together

Also known as brackets, parenthesis keep search terms together and ensure those words are searched first.

For example, if you search (cloning OR genetics) AND reproduction, the database will search for results on cloning or genetics first, and then for results on reproduction.

4. Keywords and synonyms find relevant sources

Keywords are the main ideas of your search – essentially, what your search is all about. It’s always best to start with the keywords you know are relevant, but depending on the database, you may need to be flexible with your search terms to find what you need.

Keep in mind: when you type in a keyword, the database will search only that word. For instance, if you are looking for articles related to teenagers and search for ‘teenagers’ only, you are likely to miss articles that used the terms ‘adolescents’ or ‘youths’. Try a few synonyms ( can come in handy for this!) before you move on to new search terms.

5. Operators narrow or broaden your search

Operators are words like AND, OR and NOT that connect your search words together to either narrow or broaden your set of results. They focus a search, particularly when your topic contains multiple search terms, and connect various pieces of information to find exactly what you’re looking for.

We hope these tips help you in your search for the best information available in your library! As always, if you have any questions or need further assistance, contact your Liaison Librarian.

You can also find more library search tips on our website or by watching the video below.


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