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Library DIY: I want to be better at research: General search tips


Q: I just want a few tips to search better.


First off, go you. Wanting to learn more to make your life a bit easier going forward. Here are a few tips that you can use across different databases and indexes for better searches!


1. Learn about what the database offers:

Each database offers slightly different tools and options to help you focus your searches. Ask yourself “What am I looking for” and see what they offer. You may be able to focus your search by year, document type, journal, etc.

Many databases allow you to continue adding to and revising your search within the results, which can be very helpful!

You’ll also want to make sure that you’re searching in a place that’s likely to have the information you want. This can be especially challenging if you’re looking for resources other than books and articles.

2. Play around with words and phrases:

  • Generate a list of keywords and phrases if you’re looking for something that’s thought of in many different ways, or if you’re trying to discover what phrase(s) scholars are using to talk about this issue. Try different words, or combinations to get new and different results!
  • You can put phrases in “quotation marks” if you want certain words to be searched together. This means fewer, more focused results!
  • You might also want to try wildcard*s use the * to fill in for one or more letters. For example librar* searches for any of the words: library, libraries, librarians, librarians, librarianship


3. Change up where you search:

If I’m always going to the same database, I’m only searching a selection of what is available. Try plugging your search terms into a different general or discipline-specific database to see what else is out there.


4. Remember that typing things into a search bar isn’t the only way to find stuff:

  • If you find one helpful source, mine the bibliography or the citing sources to discover more resources.
  • If you see suggested index terms that seem highly relevant, search or click those.
  • See what else the authors have written, or recent research in the journal.


5. Meet with a librarian:

Did you think we weren’t going to say this!?


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