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, even if they are not ordered in the way you searched for them.
- An asterisk (*), aka truncation, searches for all endings to a word at the same time. For example, math*, searches for math, mathematics, and mathematical.
- A question mark (?), aka a wildcard, can replace a letter in a word. This is helpful when there are variations in how a word is spelled in a language. For example, British English often uses a “s” when American English uses a “z.” Searching for psychoanaly?e searches for both psychoanalyze and psychoanalyse.
- Boolean operators are always typed in capital letters and can help you search effectively and return exactly the combinations of keywords you want. Simply typing your keywords into the search box defaults to looking for any of those terms anywhere in a document. You can get more specific using Boolean operators or a combination thereof.
- AND: displays results that contain both of the desired keywords.
- OR: displays results with at least one of the desired keywords, but not necessarily both.
- NOT: displays results that do not contain the keyword.
- Putting parentheses around sets of Boolean operators helps with more advanced searching. For example, you could create a search for “(cats AND dogs) AND (lions OR tigers) NOT bears” that will return documents that contain cats, dogs, and either lions or tigers, but that also do not contain bears.
- Many search engines and databases offer banks of filters that can help you limit your search by content type, discipline, date, online availability, or subject.
- Get used to searching using only keywords rather than typing out a full question. Searching for “dogs lions friendship” can return more specific results than “can a dog and a lion be friends?” All of the words that you include in your search will be used to find matching content. Too many words can limit your results.
- Use words that a professional would use to describe what you are looking for. Instead of “my head hurts” or “why is my head killing me,” search for “headache.”
Web search tips
While the web (i.e. Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo) is not always tailored to academic research like a database might be, there are still valuable resources that can be found through a general web search. It may take several attempts to find the right keywords for your search to return the results you want - 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"
Certain search engines have shortcuts, like Boolean operators, built in to make precise searching easier. Below is a list of shortcuts you can use when searching with Google.
- A dash (-) will exclude a word from a search. Tesla -car will exclude results that include car.
- A tilde (~) includes the synonyms of a given word.
- Two periods (..) can be used to search for a range. Searching 2000..2004 will return results that include 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004. You can use this for dates, prices, measurements, etc.
- Adding site: and the URL of a website will search within that website. Searching graduation site:unr.edu returns only instances on the UNR website where the word graduation appears.
- Adding related: and the URL of a website will return websites that have similar content to the one you gave. Searching related:unr.edu will bring up websites of other universities.
- You can use either before: or after: with a date to search for things before or after that date.
- You can specify the format of your results using filetype: and a given file extension like PDF or PPXT.