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Successful Search Strategies
- Choose the right source(s) - This is key. Make sure that
you are looking in the right place for the information you want. For
example: laboratory research, news reports, material properties,
company profiles, etc. all have specialized databases available through
the library. Turn to Google and the open Web at your own risk. If
conducting advanced research, you might have to search in multiple
databases, as well.
Use proper keywords - The terms
you use to search will directly affect your results. Think of synonyms
for the words or phrases you are searching for. Think of related
concepts or ideas about what you want to find. Don't give up with the
first search words you use, but use a variety of words/ideas.
(Remember, spelling matters.) Often, a database will have a controlled
vocabulary. That is, a standard set of terms used to describe
subjects. Using these terms could provide a more complete set of
- Broaden/narrow your topic - If you aren't getting enough
results, or are getting too many results, you may want to broaden or
narrow your topic. Think of the general category your topic falls
into, or think of a more specific facet of your research. Also, most
(but not all) search engines will return results which include ALL
words you enter. So the more search words you enter, the fewer results
which will be returned.
- Use truncation - Many search engines support truncation.
That is, using an * or similar symbol to represent a letter. For
example, a search for engineer* will find engineer, engineers,
engineered, engineering, and any other words with the root "engineer."
(Note: Some databases use different symbols for truncation, such as $.)
- Use Boolean operators - (AND, OR and NOT) Using AND or OR
between search terms produces different results. AND will return only
records which include both terms. OR will return records with either
of the terms. Most search engines default to an AND search. OR can be
useful to group synonyms. For example: beam AND (steel OR aluminum)
- Phrase searching - When searching for an exact phrase, use
quotes (" "). This can be useful if your phrase includes common
words. For example: "mechanical design."
- Search a specific field - Search specifically for an author, article title, journal title, etc. by choosing the specific field to search.
- Get help - If you are having difficulties, most databases
have help pages which describe the particulars of their search tool.
If you need more help, don't hesitate to ask a librarian.