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GPM417 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. (Some of them won't work as well in Google Scholar.)

Search Operator Example
Use AND to retrieve results that contain both of your search terms. IRA AND counterterrorism
Use OR to retrieve results that contain any or all of your search terms. history OR origin
Using NOT to exclude irrelevant results. deterrence NOT prevention
Group terms or equivalent keywords with parentheses to create complex searches. (evolution OR development) AND terrorism
Use quotation marks to search for a phrase "terrorist organisation"
Search for terms with different word endings using an asterisk. terrori*= terrorist, terrorists, terrorism
A question mark can be used to replace a single letter within a word. analy?e = analyse, analyze

Field searching and limiters

Most databases will allow you to specify which field you want to search. Common fields include author, title, dates, and subject headings/topic, and these are usually available in both basic and advanced search. 

Once you've searched, you can also limit your results by some of these fields. This is extremely useful if you want all of your articles to have been published within a certain date range, or for them all to be peer-reviewed. Look for these in the menus beside your search results. 

Get better search results

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?