Search tips

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 quotation marks retrieves results that may include those two words anywhere in the document.
  • An asterisk (*) searches for all endings to a word at the same time. For example, math*, searches for math, mathematics, and mathematical.

Web search tips

It may take several attempts to find the right keywords for your search. Be patient and persistent.

  • 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"
  • Add relevant words if you do not retrieve pertinent results.
        First try: puppy 
        More precise: "puppy training"
        Even more precise: "dalmatian pupp*" and "obedience training"
  • 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 
  • Use only the important words rather than a full sentence or question.
        Not ideal: countries where bats are an omen of luck 
        Better: bats omen luck

    All of the words that you include in your search will be used to find matching content. Too many words will limit your results.

Library Search tips

  • Library Search searches over 100 million books, ebooks, scholarly articles, audiovisual resources, images, and more.
  • After you search, use the filters on the left side of the search results page to limit by content type, discipline, date, or subject.
  • Library Search includes results for which the full text (e.g., complete article or book) may not be immediately available through the University Libraries. Choose the Available Online filter to narrow to results for which the complete work is available online.

Database search tips

What to do when you have too many results

  • Use more search terms. Start with a small number of keywords and then add more terms or try different terms based on your results. Each time you put in another search term, you will get fewer results.
  • Use good search terms. Use terms that are more specific than those you originally entered.
  • Search on different aspects of your topic. Try thinking about the specific aspects of your topic that you plan to cover in your paper and search for them separately. Then synthesize the information from different sources.
  • Narrow your topic. You may need to narrow your topic because it is too large a topic to cover in a short paper. 
  • Use database limiters. Limiters such as date and resource type can focus your results list.

What to do when you have too few results

  • 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.
  • Use fewer 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.
  • Broaden your topic. You may need to think more broadly about your topic. Think about the broader issues or subjects that your topic relates to and try searching for those. Draw connections between the information you find and your specific topic.
  • Use fewer limiters. Limiters such as date and resource type provide a targeted results list with fewer results. Use only those that are absolutely necessary.
  • Make sure you’re using the best database for your topic. If you are using a database for a specific subject (education, psychology, etc.), try searching another database or OneSearch on the library homepage. Subject-specific databases are recommended in the Subject Guides.