Skip to main content

Guide: How to Search Effectively: Home

Welcome

Welcome to the 'How to Search Effectively' Guide.

Devising a Search Strategy

Planning a search strategy helps you think clearly about your topic and makes sure that you are looking for the right information. Taking a few minutes to plan before you begin searching will save you time once you start your search.

Before You Start: Search Terms/ Expressions

Think about your topic or area of interest and ask yourself questions to clarify your ideas. For example, if you are looking for information about hamsters, ask yourself relevant questions such as:  What particular aspect am I interested in? Does it matter where? From whose perspective?

Library OPAC

Do you need access to the library catalogue fast?

(Click on the image link above, to access the library catalogue)

Useful Operators

Here are some useful operators to help build your search. Use the help page of any database or search engine for advanced options.

 Operator: Example: Find items containing: Use in:
AND Cattle AND BSE

 information about cattle and BSE in the same record

   CAB, WoK, Google

OR Cattle OR BSE

  information about cattle OR BSE, OR cattle AND BSE in the same record

CAB, WoK, Google
NOT Cattle NOT BSE

  information about cattle but not about BSE

CAB, WoK
- cattle –BSE

   information about cattle but not about BSE

Google
“….” "To be or not to be"

  the exact phrase to be or not to be

Google, WoK
NEAR/2 Cattle NEAR/2 feeding

finds cattle feeding, feeding cattle, feeding dairy cattle (within 2 words of each other)

CAB
SAME cattle SAME feeding  finds feeding in the same sentence as cattle WoK
*

 

nut*

colo*r

matches any number of characters

 : finds nutrient, nutrition, nutria, nuts

 : finds colour and color

CAB, WoK

 

Example

In this example, I’d like to know what to consider if I want to breed hamsters in Edinburgh.  Define your topic in one phrase, e.g.: hamster breeding in Edinburgh

Split your phrase into concepts.

Concept 1

Concept 2

Concept 3

hamster

breeding

Edinburgh

For each concept, make a list of other words that could also be used to describe the concept, including Latin names for plants and animals. Use a thesaurus if you need to!

Concept 1

Concept 2

Concept 3

hamster

breeding

Edinburgh

Cricetinae

reproduction

Lothians

husbandry

South-East Scotland

rearing

Add in any different forms of each word. Remember to add any different spelling used by other nationalities.

Concept 1

Concept 2

Concept 3

hamster, hamsters

breeding, breed, breeds

Edinburgh

Cricetinae

reproduction, reproduce, reproduces

Lothians

husbandry

South-East Scotland

rearing, rears, reared

Looking at the different forms, they usually have a few letters in common, e.g. reproduction, reproduce, reproduces. Many resources will let you use a symbol (usually *) to show that you want to include all the different endings, e.g. hamster* reproduc*  breed*

Put quote marks round any phrases, e.g. South-East Scotland.

The words AND and OR can be used to string together your search. Use OR within each concept:

Concept 1

Concept 2

Concept 3

hamster* OR Cricetinae

breed* OR reproduc* OR husbandry OR rear*

South-East Scotland OR Edinburgh OR Lothian*

Then put brackets round each concept, and use AND to join them together:

(hamster* OR Cricetinae) AND (breed* OR reproduc* OR husbandry OR rear*) AND (“South-East Scotland” OR Edinburgh OR Lothian*)

If you get too many results, think about adding an extra Concept.

If you don’t get enough results, try to think about broader terms. Would it still be useful to know about hamster breeding in the UK? Even in Europe? Would general breeding information for rodents help?

Using the Right Resource

If you aren’t sure which databases cover your subject area, have a look on the library page in Moodle or pick up a printed subject guide from the library.