Skip to main content

MAE 154: Product Design & Entrepreneurship: Some Search Tips

Search Tips

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 results.

  • 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.

Contact Info