Your Search Strategy




Your Search Strategy

Here are some tips if you found too much information, too little information, or the wrong information in your search.

Too Much Information


Try looking at an irrelevant record your search retrieved.
Can you figure out why the database gave it to you? Did you use one word that the computer misunderstood? See if you can use a more specific term or maybe a short phrase that excludes the meaning you don't want. Try adding a new term which makes your old term more specific.

Instead of

Japan and economy


Japan and economy and (auto or automobile or car)


Check where in the record your search terms matched. The best matches for topics are in fields like Subject or Title. Look for an Advanced or Expert Search option in the database to search in specific fields.


Use limiters when they're available. Will the database let you limit to publications only in English? Can you limit for only journal articles? Want more recent information? Is there a subject heading that covers your topic? Can you get rid of book and film reviews? Play around with your options and see if that gives more specific results. Try using the operator NOT.

(Iran and Iraq) not war

Hussein and not Saddam

Clinton not Lewinsky

+Jazz -Utah

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Too Little Information


Did you spell your search terms correctly? Research databases are remarkable tools, but they don't come equipped with spell checkers. One misspelled word can disable an entire search. Check a dictionary.


Get rid of long phrases. When you type in a phrase, all the words must appear in exactly that order for the database to make a match and return a subset of results. Some databases automatically put the operator AND between the words you type, turning your phrase into a long Boolean search string.

Instead of

discrimination against ethnic Chinese in Vietnam


(discrimination and ethnic) AND (Chinese and Vietnam)


Try using alternative terms. Use synonyms gathered while doing introductory reading. Don't forget truncation or wildcards for variant forms of a word.


    Truncation: "educat*" for education, educator, educate, educated
    Wildcard: "wom?n" for women or woman


Try to come up with broader terms for the idea you need. Every so often, it happens that there's very little written on a specific topic, but a lot on the general area.

Very narrow

recombinant DNA and sheep


cloning and animals


genetic engineering and animal*

Very broad

genetic* and animal*

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The Wrong Information


Check the coverage for the databases you're using. Do they cover the kinds of material you need? The right discipline(s)? The right kinds of documents? The right dates?


Try going to "Subject Guides" at the GFU Libraries' website. You can choose the general subject area (History, Biology, etc.) Use one of the many helpful suggested resources in your subject.

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