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Searching the Internet

This guide provides recommended search engines, subject directories, and specialized search tools. Also covered in this guide is information on formulating effective searches, the limitations of only relying on Web sources, and how to evaluate sources.

Keywords

Which of the following searches will be more effective?

A) Are school vouchers good or bad for public schools?

or

B) "school vouchers" AND "public schools" AND issues

The answer is typically B - keywords and phrases.

In most cases, you do not want to type in a long sentence or sentence fragment.  Taking your search topic and translating it into the most important keywords that describe your topic is the most effective search technique.  The cases in which you would want to use a sentence as your search phrase is when you are gathering background information, you are having trouble effectively searching with keywords, or it is likely authors will use such similarly worded sentences in their articles.

Other tips regarding keywords:

  • Avoid putting too much into one search - pick the best keywords that you expect the author to be using in their discussion and adjust along the way.
  • Common words to describe an issue versus professional and technical terminology can often effect the scholarly nature of your search results.  For instance, "public education reform" versus "improving our schools."

Phrases

To search for two or more words in an exact order, place quotation marks around the phrase.  The computer will only return documents containing that specific phrase rather than documents containing each word found individually anywhere in the document.

EX: "obsessive compulsive disorder"

Truncation

Truncation allows you to search for a root word with all of its different endings by placing a symbol at the end of the word.  Symbols vary by database so check the help section on each database.  Common symbols are:

* (asterisk)

! (exclamation mark)

? (question mark)

EX: femini*

The computer will search for feminist, feminism, feminists, feminine, feminize

Using Advanced Search Features

Most search engines have advanced search features or tips for better searches, allowing you to be more specific with your search and refine your search results.  You can use the following search limits and more:

  • Published date or web page update
  • Search terms appearing only in the web page title, URL, page links
  • Search for phrases ("quotation marks")
  • Eliminate from results those page that include unwanted search terms (NOT or -)
  • Identify some search terms as optional (OR)
  • Reading level
  • Filetype (doc, docx, ppt, pptx, pdf, xls, xlsx, jpg)
  • Domain of site (government - gov, mil; education - edu; organizations - org)
  • Wildcard/truncation (*, to find variations of a root word)

If the search engine does not have a separate advanced search screen, use the search filters that appear on the search results page (Google, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, Google Scholar) or view the Help section for search tips (allintitle; site; filetype).

 

How Boolean Operators Work

See a demonstration of how Boolean operators work by using the Boolean Machine.

Boolean Machine Venn Diagram

How many Searches?

How many searches do I need to execute?

Doing separate searches for the different points or subtopics will allow you to find information for each part of your paper.  If you are discussing both sides of a controversial issue, conduct a search for each side in unique searches.  For instance, in discussing three proposals to improve the voucher system, you may want to search separately for each point you want to discuss. 

Two cases in which separate subtopic searches are not recommended:

  • Depending on the assignment, you may need to form your discussion on existing and available information rather than presupposing the "answers."  Otherwise, you could miss an aspect you had not imagined.

  • If you don't have preconceived subtopics or answers in mind and need an overview of your initial topic.