Defining Your Search Terms:
Specific words, word orders, and connectors all have an effect on the outcome of your search - regardless of where you are looking. When defining search terms, be sure to:
Ask yourself, "what terms do I need to search in order to..."
Get broad or general information, or standardized definitions of a term?
Find background information on the topic?
Locate the most up-to-date research on the subject?
Discover controversies, dissenting opinions, or alternate viewpoints on the issue?
Consult reference texts to determine standardized terms within your discipline to use in your searches. See the list of reference materials on the Home page of this guide, or under the class-specific pages.
Be aware of alternate names and spellings for terms. Keep in mind things such as scientific names vs. common names; regional variants or vocabularies; etc.
Look at the descriptors attached to an item or how it is tagged. Use this information to help locate other related content. A good place to do this is in AliCat. Under each record are a list of 'topics' the material has been sorted into. Using these links can help lead you to similarly classified materials.
Focusing Your Results:
There are several ways you can limit or expand the results returned to you when performing a search. Tricks to do so include:
Adding a * to the end of a word, which allows for different word endings to be searched. For example, searching biol* will lead the search engine to include results for all words that begin with those letters, including biology, biologic, biological, biologist, etc.
Using "quotation marks" around a phrase, which searches for the exact phrase rather than all of the words independently. For example, searching for "conservation biology in Madagascar" will return results that contain that exact phrase, as opposed to searching independently for conservation + biology + Madagascar and returning any results with a combination of those words.
Including (parenthesis) around words with OR/AND in between will lead to multiple words being searched at once. For example, searching for (Biology OR Health) AND Education tells the engine that you are okay with looking at resources that discuss either biology or health, but that all of them must discuss education.
Using filtering options provided by databases. This will usually allow you to limit results returned by specific characteristics including publication date, language, subject area, and material format.