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BMS105/132 Research Skills Guide: Search strategies

Introduction

This is an introduction to some of the general techniques that you can use in online searching. Using these techniques will make your searching better and more effective!

Note: Databases and other online resources are similar in what they offer and what they do, but are different in their specific appearance and functionality. It's a good idea to check a database's Help section to check and confirm how to search in that particular database.

Common Search Tips

These search tips can help you to find more relevant results in Primo Search and many other library databases. If these tips don't work in the database you are using check their help section for their set of symbols.

Search Operator Example
Use AND to retrieve results that contain both of your search terms. police AND federal
Use OR to retrieve results that contain any or all of your search terms. politics OR government
Using NOT to exclude irrelevant results. canine NOT dental
Combine terms with parentheses to create complex searches. (tertiary OR university) AND education
Use quotation marks to search for a phrase "lung cancer"
Search for terms with different word endings using an asterisk. manag* = manage, managed, managing, management
A question mark can be used to replace a single letter within a word. analy?e = analyse, analyze

You can get more help from:

  • the Library's Database Help Guide, especially the section on Searching in a Database for search techniques
  • the Help sections within databases
  • any online resources (eg YouTube videos) on Boolean searching, Boolean operators, or Boolean logic.

Keyword and Phrase Searches

What's the difference?

  • A keyword search is where multiple words entered together in the search box are searched for separately as keywords. The search tool puts the AND operator between the terms. In this case, if you want to search for the words as a phrase, you must enclose the words in double quotation marks.
  • A phrase search is where multiple words entered together in the search box are searched for as a phrase. In this case, if you want to search for the words separately, you must insert the AND operator between them.

It is useful to know whether the database you are searching defaults to a keyword search or a phrase search.

Keyword Search. Primo Search and most databases (eg EBSCOhost and  ProQuest databases) default to a keyword search:

If you enter, in the search box: human rights You will get results that have human AND rights [not necessarily occurring together]
If you want to get results for human rights as a phrase You will need to  enter, in the search box:  "human rights"

Phrase Search. Some databases (eg Ovid databases) default to a phrase search:

If you enter, in the search box: human rights You will get results that have human rights as a phrase
If you want to get results that have both the words human and rights, but not necessarily together You will need to enter, in the search boxhuman AND rights

If in doubt, enclose a phrase in double quotation marks.

Get better search results

Truncation

Truncation is used to search for the same term with different word-endings. This is another way of making your search broader, with more results.

The truncation symbol is usually the asterisk (*).

Examples:

If you search for: You will get:
manag* manage, manager, managers, managing etc
team* team, teams, teamworks etc
touris* tourist, tourists, tourism etc [but not tour or tours]

Activity

Try combining some of your keywords using some common search tips.

  • Do you have similar terms to link with OR?
  • Do you have any phrases?
  • Can you combine two different terms with an AND?