Skip to main content

Search Tips: Tips for Effective Search Results

This LibGuide will help you develop effective searches in our online catalogue and our databases.

What Search Terms Should I Use?

Look at your assignment.  What are the important terms for your research topic?  If you had to tell someone in one brief sentence what you were doing your paper on, how would you state it?

Now, consider synonyms for your important terms.  If you are having to plan a wellness center, for example, what are some other terms that could be substituted for "plan" -- "design"?  "create"? ... What about "wellness center"?

When you are doing research in a specific discipline, particularly when using scholarly resources, it is important to know the accepted terminology (i.e. vocabulary) for that discipline.  Your class discussions and your course text can be excellent tools for learning the vocabularly of your field of study.

Boolean Operators ("AND", "OR", "NOT")

Boolean operators allow you to group, include, or exclude certain terms in your search. You can use these operators:

Operator

Description

A search for...

Will return results...

AND (uppercase),
or the plus sign
+

This is the default search operator. WorldCat searching uses the word "AND" or the plus sign to find all of the words typed in the search box.
Note: Any search for terms without an operator will return items with all the words.

guns germs steel
guns AND germs AND steel
guns + germs + steel

with all of the words entered in the search box: guns, germs, steel

OR (uppercase),
or the | symbol

The use of the word "OR", or the | symbol, will search for either of the words listed in the search box.

Paris or fashion
Paris | fashion

for any of the words entered in the search box:
Paris
OR
fashion

NOT (uppercase),
or the minus sign
-

The word "NOT" or the minus sign will exclude terms from your search.

Paris - fashion
Paris NOT fashion

for Paris but not fashion

quotation marks
" "

To search for an exact phrase, the search terms should be enclosed in quotation marks.

“The Grapes of Wrath”

where all words are located directly next to each other in the search results

parentheses
( )

Use parentheses to create more precise searches.

dog (walking or feeding or grooming)

dog walking
dog feeding 
dog grooming

Wildcard Search (ex. searching for terms like "woman" and "women" at the same time)

Wildcards are special characters used to represent additional characters in a search term. They are useful when you are unsure of spelling, when there are alternate spellings, or when you only know part of a term. You can use these two wildcards:

Pound sign (#).   The pound sign, also called a number sign or hash mark, represents a single character. See the examples below:

Examples:

This search...Returns items whose record contains...
An example of the pound sign (#) wildcard used in a search, as described on this page. woman
women
An example of the pound sign (#) wildcard used in a search, as described on this page. advertise
advertize

Question mark (?).  The question mark (?) represents any number of additional characters. Include a number if you know the maximum number of characters the wildcard will replace. See the examples below:

Examples:

This search...Returns items whose record contains...
An example of the question mark(?) wildcard used in a search, as described on this page. anderson
andersen
An example of the question mark(?) wildcard used in a search, as described on this page. burner
butler

Keyword Search

A keyword search uses one or more complete words that are contained anywhere in the item's record, including: titles, notes, abstracts, summaries, descriptions and subjects.
Keywords can also be names of people and places that are the subjects of a library resource or a listing in a directory.

You can enter words in upper or lower case, and if you use multiple words you can enter them in any order. See the example below:

 

This search...Returns these titles...

Keyword:
An example of a keyword search, as described on this page.

Abnormal blood chemistry values in Hodgkin's disease
Chemistry of blood type
Early blood chemistry in Britain and France
General clinical chemistryBlood loss from laboratory tests

Your search results can contain a range of items related to your search keyword(s):

  • words from the title
  • words that describe the subject matter
  • the author's name
  • the item's format and/or language
  • year of publication
  • name(s) or publishers and/or distributors of the item
  • if the item is an article, the name of the magazine or journal in which the article appeared
  • for recorded music and movies: artist, actor, or director name

Phrase Search

A phrase search uses quotation marks to allow an exact match to the phrase searched. See the example below:

Example:

This search...Returns these titles...

Phrase:
An example of a phrase search, as described on this page.

Abnormal blood chemistry values in Hodgkin's disease
Blood chemistry tutorials
Early blood chemistry in Britain and France
Study in post-operative blood chemistry

Although these examples show titles, your search results can contain the same range of items described for Keywords above.

 

 

Truncation Search (ex. searching for terms "design" and "designing" at the same time)

Truncation allows you to search for a term and its variations by entering a minimum of the first three letters of the term followed by a question mark symbol (?) or an asterisk (*). See the examples below:

 

Examples:

 

This search...Returns items whose record contains...
An example of truncation used in a search, as described on this page. security
securities
securitization
An example of truncation used in a search, as described on this page. investor
invested
investing
investiture
investment