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Search Strategies

Key Words  

  • Choosing the right key words simplifies searching for information.

  • Use a broad term (example: disease) or a narrow term (example: skin cancer) to see which gives you better information results.

  • Try using the singular form of a word (example: cat) rather than the plural form (example: cats).

Boolean Operators

  • AND - limits your search, requiring that both or all words appear 

  • OR - is used to capture synonyms or related words  

  • NOT - eliminates possibilities that you suspect will cause problems  (Sometimes search engines use + and - for AND and NOT.)  

Relevant Phrases

  • You will often want words to appear together in specific order.  Commonly, quotation marks (" ") set words off as phrases to be searched as a whole.  (Some search engines use parentheses, commas, or hyphens instead of quotation marks.)  Examples: "vitamin A"; "bed and breakfast"; "George Washington Carver"


  • *, ? - An asterisk (*) or a question mark (?) may often be used to stand for any character or string of characters.  Examples: teen* (picks up teenage, teenagers, or teens); Herz? (for Herzegovina); wom?n (for woman or women)

Natural Language Searches

  • Some search engines allow you to type in questions as you would think or speak them.  Example: Why is the sky blue?


  • ADJ, NEAR/# - Words often are not meaningful in your search unless they appear near each other in a document.  In large documents, words separated by lots of text are generally unrelated.  ADJ specifies that two words appear next to each other.  NEAR/25 specifies that two words appear within 25 words of each other.  Examples: global ADJ warming; Eric Clapton NEAR/10 Cream


  • () - Nesting allows you to create more complicated search statements combining Boolean operators using parentheses.  Example: (car OR automobile) AND Saturn

Case Sensitivity

  • Most search engines are case insensitive by default.  However, there are some that recognize uppercase and lowercase variations.  Examples: Baker (retrieves name and eliminates reference to cake and bread makers); AIDS (eliminates reference to helpers); China (eliminates references to dishes)

Field Searching

  • This feature restricts searches to certain portions of Web or database documents.  It allows you to specify that the search words appear in the title, URL, or first paragraph.   Examples:  title: cancer; URL: epa

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