Skip to main content

I need search tips

It can be frustrating to not find what you're looking for, but sometimes all it takes to improve your results is small tweaks to your search.

General tips that work in almost any search box:

  • Quotation marks search for an exact phrase. [ medical error ] finds results with those two words anywhere in the document, together or separately. But [ "medical error" ] finds results with that exact phrase.

  • An asterisk saves typing by searching for all endings to a word at the same time. [ mexic* ] searches for Mexico, Mexican, and Mexicans. Be careful not to shorten your word too much, because this can bring back results that are not relevant. [ me* ] searches for Mexico, Mexican, Mexicans, meningitis, memes, Medici, and so on.

Following are some more specific search tips for the web, the databases, and the library's OneSearch:


Web Search Tips

1. Keep it simple! Start by typing the name of a thing, place, or concept that you're looking for.

[ puppy training tips ]

[ london dinner cruise ]

[ pasta recipe ]

2. Add relevant words if you don't see what you want after doing a simple search.

First try: [ puppy ]

More precise: [ puppy training ]

Even more precise: [ dalmatian puppy training class ]

Don't worry if it takes several attempts to find the right words to describe your search.

3. Try words that a website would use to describe what you're looking for.

Not ideal: [ my head hurts ]

Not ideal: [ why is my head killing me ]

Better: [ headache ]

Why? Google matches the words in your search to the words appearing in pages on the Internet. "Headache" is the term that informative webpages are likely to use, so using that term will help you reach the type of information you want.

4. Use only the important words rather than a full sentence or question.

Not ideal: [ country where bats are an omen of good luck ]

Better: [ bats good luck ]

Why? Generally, all of the words that you include in your search will be used to find matching content. Too many words will limit your results.


Database Search Tips    


1. Too many results:

Start small! Begin with just one or a few search terms, then add additional terms if you find you have too many results.

Use good search terms - Try using terms that are more specific than those you originally entered. Do not use OR between terms that mean different things, for example, women OR salary.

Too few search terms - Each time you put in another search term it will give you fewer results. If you only have one general term in the search box, consider what about that term interests you.

Use filters - Filters (such as date and format) give you a more targeted results list.

Topic is too broad - Narrow the scope of your search. Think about the various aspects of your topic that you plan to cover in your paper and search for them separately, then synthesize the information you find. Or you may need to narrow your topic because it is too large a topic to cover in a short paper.

2. Too few results:

Is this the best database for your topic? If you are using a database for a specific subject (education, psychology, etc.), try using a multidisciplinary database like Academic Search Complete or even Google Scholar. Be prepared to try several different databases. If you need a subject-specific database, try the Research Guides.

Use good search terms - Check your spelling and brainstorm some synonyms or related terms for your concept. You can use OR between synonyms, for example salary OR pay OR compensation.

Too many search terms - Each additional term in your search will get you fewer results. If you have three or more search terms, try removing one to see if your results improve.

Too many filters - Filters (such as date and format) give you a more targeted results list, but get you fewer results. Use only those that are absolutely necessary.

Your topic is too narrow - What is the broader theme of your topic? Break your topic down and search for different parts separately, then synthesize the information you find.

OneSearch Search Tips

1. What are you looking for? OneSearch on the library home page is a great place to find books and articles. It searches the library's collection and all of the library's databases with a single search.

2. Are you looking for a specific book or article? If so, go straight to OneSearch's Advanced Search and search just in the Title field. It lets you limit by other fields, too, like Author or Subject.

3. Want to search like a pro? See the Using OneSearch guide for tips.

4. Looking for other ways to focus your results? Use the "Refine by" column on the left side of the search results page.

5. Are you looking for course reserves? The best place to search is via this Course Reserves link or by using the Course Reserves tab that’s part of the library home page’s search box.