Advanced Search Techniques

Keywords

Don’t just type your entire research question/topic into the database or catalog search box! Only enter the most important terms in your research topic. These important terms are called keywords, and most search systems work optimally with keywords, not whole questions or phrases.

For example, if your research topic is “should protective head gear be required for girls soccer?” good keywords are soccer, girls and head guards. You usually don't need words like importance, effect, benefits, vs/versus, advantages, significance, pro/cons, etc. Good keywords are usually specific nouns.

Also, with keywords, it's important to think of all the ways your term could be expressed. If your topic is the death penalty, for example, you'd also want to search for capital punishment, which is another phrase people use to talk about the death penalty.

Generally speaking, less is more. The fewer words you enter in your search, the more results you will get back.

Advanced Search Tips

Often a simple search with well-chosen keywords will provide you with the results you need. But, sometimes you need to do a more advanced search, depending on your topic and your search terms. Here’s how:

  • Use an asterisk (*) to search for all variants of a word. Ex: vaccin* = vaccine, vaccines, vaccination
  • Put phrases in quotes. Ex: “death penalty”
  • Use OR (in all capital letters) to include synonyms in your search - and broaden your search. And, OR statements should be in parenthesis. Ex: ("death penalty" OR "capital punishment")
  • Use AND (in all capital letters) to narrow your search. Ex: abortion AND Texas 
  • You can combine any of the above to create an even more advanced search. 

Many of the Library's online resources have built-in tools that allow you to filter your results by date, publication type, peer-review status, or by certain subjects. Look for these filters and use them to quickly improve your search results.