The Research Process: 2e. Search Strategies

A step-by-step guide for getting started in the research process.

General Strategies

The easiest way to search for information electronically is to enter a couple of keywords into the search box of the resource and see what type of results you get. This strategy, however, will often result in too few, too many, or irrelevant results.

In order to retrieve the most relevant results, you will need to construct a search string.  A search string is a combination of keywords, truncation symbols, and boolean operators you enter into the search box of an electronic library resource or an Internet search engine.

Truncation & Wildcards

Truncation or wildcard symbols can broaden your search and allow you to look for variations of words. For example: sport* would bring up variations such as sport, sports, sporting, sporty, etc. 

Note: The truncation symbol varies depending on the electronic resource you are searching. For more information, consult the database’s “help” or “search tips” pages.


Are you finding too much information or perhaps not finding enough? Use alternative, narrower, or broader keywords to vary your results.

Search Strings

Boolean Operators

Boolean searching is the traditional way to search for information in most online databases and on the Internet. Boolean operators or connector words, such as AND, OR, and NOT, are used to create phrases and concepts based on specific rules of search logic.  


business AND ethics 
cookery AND Spain

Retrieves records that contain
ALL of the search terms.


hotels OR motels
www OR world wide web
theater OR theatre 

Retrieves records that contain
ANY of the search terms, but
does not necessarily include
all of them.


java NOT coffee
Clinton NOT (William OR Bill)  

Excludes records containing
the second search term.

Google Search Strategies

If your initial search query does not produce the desired results, try these search strategies, and check out Google's special search features.

 Search Strategies  Examples
Queries are not case sensitive.

Barack Obama and barack obama will retrieve the same results.

Results will typically include each word or punctuation mark included in the search query. Some stop words or exceptions apply.

If you search for What is the best car company, you will retrieve results with the words what, best, car, and company. Try to limit a search to only words you want to show up in your results and remove unnecessary filler words.  


Keep search queries simple and descriptive and use as few terms as possible. Avoid natural language queries as they can limit your results.

Use colorado statehood instead of when did colorado first become a state.

Google automatically truncates search terms. To prevent automatic truncation, use a + sign in front of each term.

A query on child retrieves results with 'children" and "childcare".

Use double quotations marks ("") to search terms as a phrase and narrow your results. Google will only retrieve results that have those exact terms in the exact order typed.

A query on "Barack Hussein Obama II" will retrieve only those sites that refer to Obama by his full name. Sites that refer to him as simply Barack Obama may be overlooked.

Use the site: feature to limit your results to
a specific website or class of websites.

The query cloning will only retrieve articles about cloning from the online version of the Wall Street Journal.

A query on cloning will only retrieve results within the government domain.

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