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How to search for sources and find library materials: Search techniques

Introduction to the library´s resources

Effective searching

To find information effectively you need to invest time up front to develop a search strategy using a range of search techniques.

Before you start searching, spend some time defining your research topic. Ask yourself, what is it that you want to find out? What search terms or keywords will find this information?

Use whatever technique works best for you - e.g. brainstorming, words lists or mind maps etc. can help you think around your topic and identify all possible search concepts and terms. 

Develop a search strategy

Start by:

  • defining the research topic
  • choose your search terms or keywords carefully
  • choose databases to search
  • many databases provide thesaurus, use them to help you choose your keywords

Sage Research Methods Online - SRMO

Sage Research Methods Online (SRMO) is a great resource to use when you are planning and conducting your research.

Although targeted at social science researchers, it covers key research methodology topics that are applicable across the research spectrum.

Sage have produced this LibGuide to help you get the best from the resource.

Boolean operators

Searches may be refined or broadened by using the Boolean operators: AND, OR and NOT (always in capital letters).  

AND narrows the search (most databases automatically connect words with and)
Both items must be present e.g.

facebook AND twitter – finds resources where both facebook and twitter are discussed

OR broadens the search e.g.
facebook OR twitter – finds resources where either or both terms are discussed

NOT excludes/narrows e.g.
social media NOT facebook – finds resources about social media but excludes resources about facebook

Search tips

Beware of spelling variants

In most databases searches may also be refined or broadened by using quotation marks, truncation *, wildcard symbol ? and parenthesis.

  • Quotation marks: to search for exact phrases otherwise the words will be combined with AND

Example: "internet fraud", "red blood cells 

  • The asterisk (*): is the most used truncation character. It is used to replace one or more characters. In most databases it can be used at the end (right-hand truncation), or in the middle of a word.  Some databases also allow  truncation at the beginning (left-hand truncation).

Example: econom* will find economy, economics, economical, etc. *old will find told, household, bold, etc.and searching for hon*r will find honor, honour

  • A question mark symbol: in many databases the wildcard character is used to replace any single character, either inside or at the right end of a word.   

Example: t?re will find tire, tyre, tore, etc. and searching for ad??? will find added, adult, adopt, etc 

  • A hyphen: is used in many databases to indicate a range when searching numerical fields, such as Publication date.

Example: YR(2005-2008)

  • Parenthesis: is used in many databases to define search order and search term relation.   

Example: (education AND elementary) NOT secondary (child OR infant)