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ITC331 Research Skills Guide: Search strategies

Common Search Tips

There are a number of techniques you can use while searching to get better and more relevant results.

Basic and advanced search

Basic search usually involves one search box, with a few options about searching a specific collection or field. This is great for general searching. When you have multiple keywords or complex search queries, using Advanced search can be helpful. This usually involves several different boxes for your different keywords, built-in search operators, and more options for field searching and limiters.

Most databases will have a link to Advanced Search next to their Basic search option. Advanced Search in Google Scholar is accessible from the menu.

Search operators

Use these with your keywords to refine your searches and specify exactly what you want to find. These are most useful in journal databases and Primo Search.

Search Operator Example
Use AND to retrieve results that contain both of your search terms. ethics AND robots
Use OR to retrieve results that contain any or all of your search terms. AI OR "artificial intelligence"
Use NOT to exclude irrelevant results. independence NOT retirement
Combine terms with parentheses to create complex searches. ICT (ethics AND choice)
Use quotation marks to search for a phrase "artificial intelligence"
Search for terms with different word endings using an asterisk. ethic* = ethics, ethical, ethically
A question mark can be used to replace a single letter within a word. analy?e = analyse, analyze

Applying Search Strategies

Now try applying the above information to your Assessment 3 task.  Below are some basic searches that use Boolean operators, phrase searching, truncation and/or grouping. Combining these techniques together is called a search string or strategy.

Search Strategy Operators
AI AND ethics Boolean
"human autonomy" AND technology Boolean, phrase
"decision making" AND ("artificial intelligence" OR AI) Boolean, grouping, phrase
human* AND independ* AND ("artificial intelligence" OR AI) Boolean, grouping, truncation, phrase

Get better search results

Proximity Searching

A proximity search forces a database to find results where one search term appears within a certain number of words of another search term. The proximity operator varies according to the database.

Examples from an EBSCOhost database:

N= near


If you search for You will get results for
ethics N3 robots Results where ethics is within 3 words of robots in any order
ethics W3 robots Results where ethics is within 3 words of robots in the same order

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