Smart Searching Tips

One of the easiest and most effective things you can do to improve your search results is to improve your search terms.


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 library search systems work optimally with keywords, not whole questions or phrases (even though Google lets us get away with sloppy searching).

You don't need words like importance, effect, benefits, vs/versus, advantages, significance, etc.

Good keywords are usually specific nouns.

With this assignment particularly, DON'T include words like "literature review" or "research paper" (or review or research) in your search terms. You will get some results, but you will severely limit the results you get. You will also produce results with those search terms that are neither literature reviews nor research papers. In the end, it will likely lead to more frustration for you. 

Consider your search terms. Are there many synonyms that you might need to include to get all the results on your topic? Is there discipline-specific vocabulary that you can or should include? If your term can mean more than one thing, how can you limit to just what you want to search for?

Your keywords will likely evolve as you learn more about your topic. That's perfectly fine. You're not stuck with the ones you originally started out with.

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, your search terms, and the search tool you're using. Here’re some techniques:

  • Use an asterisk (*) to search for all variants of a word. Ex: cognit* = cognition, cognitive
  • Put phrases in quotes. Ex: “working memory”
  • Use OR (in all capital letters) to broaden your search or to include several synonymous keywords at once. Ex: memory OR recollection
  • Use AND (in all capital letters) to narrow your search to a more specific topic. Ex: memory AND children
  • Combine any of the above to create an even more advanced search. Ex: (memory OR recollection) AND children

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.