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ENG 151: Academic Writing: Search Tips

Search Strategy

Your search strategy 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 cyberbullying, but as you get more precise in your research, you can focus your search strategy to something more like this: cyberbullying "social networks" teen*. This would be a focused and effective search strategy to find articles about the topic of cyberbullying and social networks that specifically mention one of the following words: teen, teens, or teenagers.

"Phrase Searching"

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 "cellular telephones" in quotes and then adding accidents as an additional term.  This will ensure the words "cellular telephones" are next to each other when searching the database which should result in a more focused search.  The word accidents could be found anywhere in the record.

If words are typed into the search box in a string such as cellular telephones accidents the database would look for those words anywhere in the record. This is not always a poor option, but sometimes putting quotation marks around 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 "cellular telephones accidents" in quotes, the database needs to find those three words in a row. That's not likely to happen considering we wouldn't write "cellular telephones accidents." 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 term wifi in a search box and you found a fantastic article, you'd want to note the subject terms used in that article. It might include terms such as "wireless access points" and "local area networks."   You could then 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'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!

Truncation *

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.

This will result in a larger search result 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 an accurate glimpse at all of the articles you should be, then doing a truncation search can help you see more!