Your search strategy (i.e., the words you choose and how you type them in the search box) will determine the effectiveness of your search. Using the search tips described on this page, as well as trying a combination of terms, will help you define effective search strategies. It's common to start with a broad search such as information literacy, but as you get more precise in your research, you can focus your search strategy to something like this: "information literacy" "higher education" librar*. This would be a focused and effective search strategy to find articles about the topic of information literacy in higher education that specifically mention one of the following words: library, libraries, or librarian.
Use search tips such as putting "quotation marks" around words you want kept together in your search. The databases will look for each word separately unless you tell them you want them searched as a phrase.
For example, you might try putting in the terms "reading comprehension" in quotes and then adding nonfiction as an additional term. This will ensure the words "reading comprehension" are next to each other when it searches the database which should result in a more focused search. The word nonfiction could be found anywhere in the record.
If words are typed into the search box in a string such as reading comprehension nonfiction, the database would look for those words anywhere in the record. This is not always a poor option, but sometimes putting quotation marks around the terms helps narrow the search.
Keep in mind that if you do use quotes, put them around terms that make sense next to each other. If you put "reading comprehension nonfiction" in quotes, the database needs to find those three words in a row. That's not likely to happen considering we wouldn't write "reading comprehension nonfiction." Anything in quotes needs to be found in the article exactly as you typed it.
Always take a few seconds to note the Subjects used on articles you like. These can be great terms to use to start another search or to try in another database. For example, if you typed the words sport management in a search box and you found a fantastic article, you'd want to note that subject terms used for that article are "sports administration" and "management science." Then you could use those Subject terms to search for additional articles in the databases.
Utilizing sources cited within articles is a smart way to take advantage of great resources you've already found. Say you've found a terrific article ...you'll want to take a look at the bibliography or footnotes to see if it leads you to other sources that might be useful for your research. Fully utilize the resources you find!
Some of the databases provide you shortcuts to articles cited within sources - watch for those! Some databases also give you links to "related articles" that might be useful for your topic. After you find an article that meets your needs, but sure to look closely for these additional shortcuts to help you with your research.
Take advantage of the truncation symbol * -- the asterisk used at the end of a word tells the search engine you want all forms of that word.
For example, putting the * at the end of teach* will search for teach, teacher, teaches, teaching all in one search. It's important to note where you put the *. In this example, it wouldn't be helpful to put the * after teaching* as there aren't additional words that start t-e-a-c-h-i-n-g; the * at the end of teach* allows for those additional endings.
This will result in a larger search result set...so if your search is already too big, this isn't a great tool to use. On the other hand, if you're not sure you're getting a good glimpse at all of the articles you should be, then doing a truncation search can help you see more!