Answered By: Research Librarian
Last Updated: Jan 10, 2023     Views: 84

General Tips that work in Most Searches

  • Quotation marks search for an exact phrase. For example, if you search with quotations, "medical error,"  your search finds results only with that exact phrase. A search for the phrase without quotations, medical error, retrieves results that include those two words anywhere in the document. 
  • An asterisk (*) searches for all endings to a word at the same time. For example, mexic*, searches for Mexico, Mexican, and Mexicans.

Web Search Tips

1. Keep it simple! Start by typing the name of a thing, place, or concept that you are looking for.
    puppies and  "training tips" 
    london and "dinner cruises"
    "pasta recipe"

2. Add relevant words if you do not retrieve pertinent results.
    First try: puppy 
    More precise:  "puppy training"
    Even more precise: "dalmatian puppies" AND "obedience training"

It may take several attempts to find the right keywords for your search.

3. Use words that a professional would use to describe what you are looking for.
    Not ideal: "my head hurts"
    Not slang: "why is my head killing me"
    Better: headache 

Search engines like Google match 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.

4. Use only the important words rather than a full sentence or question.
    Not ideal: countries where bats are an omen of good luck 
    Better: bats and  "good luck"

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.

Source: Google Basic Search Help
More web search help: Google Tips & Tricks

Database Search Tips

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 - Use terms that are more specific than those you originally entered. Do not use OR between terms with different meanings; 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 choose one general term or keyword for the search box, consider what makes you interested in using it to define your topic. 
  • Use limiters - Limiters such as date and resource type can focus your 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. Or you may need to narrow your topic because it is too large a topic to cover in a short paper. 

Too few results:

  • Is this the best database for your topic? If you are using a database for a specific subject (education, psychology, etc.), searching the library's catalog, or a multidisciplinary database like Academic Search Complete. 
  • Subject-specific databases are recommended in the Library Research Guides.
  • Use good search terms or keywords - Check your spelling and brainstorm synonyms or related terms for your topic. You can use OR between synonyms; for example, salary OR pay OR compensation.
  • Too many search terms - Each additional term in your search will retrieve fewer results. If you have three or more search terms, remove one to see if your results improve.
  • Too many limiters - Limiters such as date and resource type provide a targeted results list with 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.

Catalog Search Tips

  1. What are you looking for? The library's catalog is a great place to search for books and articles.
  2. Can you use a limiter to focus your results? After you search, use the filters on the left side of the search results page to limit by subject, author, date, or language.
  3. Are you looking for a specific article? Search the library's catalog, to find articles in most of the Library databases, or use Academic Search Complete, or search in a subject specific database at the Library Research Guides
  4. Are you looking for Course Reserves? Search for the title of your textbook in the library's catalog . If it is available on course reserve, it will have a purple icon labeling the item as "course" (See the picture below). If you don't know the name of your textbook, look it up in the SUNY Geneseo Bookstore's catalog