How to search for the best results

How to search for the best results

When using databases, library catalogues, or online search engines, knowing how to search can save time and produce more relevant results.

First, think about what type of information you want (for example, does it have to be recent? Or does it have to be in a particular format? Do you want more scholarly information?).

Use this to decide where you are going to search: the library catalogue? Google Scholar? An industry database? It is good practice to search as many sources as you can, as this will help you get a wide spread of information and less likely to miss something important.

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Search Terms / Keywords

Often the first thing people will look for is the Search Box. This allows you to enter basic word and phrases related to what you want to find. To get the most useful results, it is worth taking a few moments before you start to think about the terms you are going to use.

1. Only use important words.

Don’t include words like ‘the’, ‘in’, ‘a’, as they won’t be included in the search.

2. Enter the most important term first.

Try to think of synonyms (alternatives) for your term(s) – different people may have used different ones.
A thesaurus can help with this.

3. Make your search more specific

Start to add in other terms. The more specific you are, the fewer results you will get, but these are likely to be closer to the information you are looking for. For example, if you wanted to know what the average rainfall was in the South east of Scotland.

Typing ‘rainfall’ would get you over 48 million hits in Google;
average rainfall‘ would give you about the same (but adding quotation marks – average rainfall –would give you 2.7 million as it is searching for the exact phrase, rather than the two separate words).

average rainfall” Scotland brings it down to 105,000 and “average rainfall” “south east Scotland”‘ brings the number of hits right down to just over 2,000 – also it is more likely that the first few results will give you the answer you are looking for.

You could reduce the number further by adding specific dates or locations etc. Thinking about exactly what you want to find before you search will give you better results and save you time trawling through irrelevant information.

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Boolean Operators

The Boolean operators are AND, OR, and NOT. These indicate how terms in a search should be combined. Different combinations will give you different results:

OR generally gives you more results while AND gives you less.
Asking for a ham AND pineapple pizza will give you a different thing than if you asked for a pineapple pizza NOT with ham.

If you are using more than one Boolean operator, separate the ideas out in a logical order like you would with a long sum. So, if you weren’t too fussy about what else went on your ham pizza, you could ask for: ham AND (pineapple OR jalapeno) – without the parentheses [ () ] you risk it reading as ham AND pineapple pizza ; OR jalapeno pizza

Filters or Limits

Filters or limits often appear at the top or side of a search and allow you to takeout any results you don’t want, making your results more specific. Common ones include date(s), author(s), language, and format of publication. Have a think beforehand about what information you want (and don’t want).

E.g. you might want to find articles about dance but don’t want anything about ballroom dancing. In this case you could search for “dance” -ballroom to exclude anything with ballroom in the article.

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There are other techniques you can use to enhance your search. Common ones include: Wildcards which can be used to replace one or more letters. Often these are an asterisk [*] or question mark [?]. This can be useful for words with different spellings.

For example colo?r will look for the English and American English word color/colour.

Asterisks can also be used to find different related words with the same root. For example therap* will find therapy, therapies, therapist, therapeutics etc.or comput* will find computer, computing. Be careful not to truncate too far back.

More Help…

Search engines, databases, and many online repositories will have their own help pages and guides available.To arrange search training – for individuals and groups – contact the library.

Be flexible with your searching and prepared to try different terms and combinations to get the results you want.

Try and stick to scholarly databases, library catalogues or reputable sites to control the reliability of your results. See the library guide to ‘fake news’ for tips on avoiding false information.

Different resources will have different ways for you to manage, export, and share your results. However you get your sources though – be sure to credit them properly! See our help guide or contact the library.

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