Basic search skills

Finding information is a mix of method and technical skill. The tips here are designed to help you understand how to broaden or focus a search and to give you the skills to search more effectively. 

The search operators below are common to most databases and search engines. The character or punctuation may slightly differ but the operation will be the same. When you have mastered using these you can apply the method across a range of discovery tools for more effective searching. 

You should begin a search when you have identified your information need. This means the type of information that you want and keywords or subject terms that reflect your research question. 

  • AND, OR  (Boolean operators)

AND focuses your search as all terms must be present in each item you retrieve. The more terms you add, the more focused the search. If you enter multiple terms in a single search box without an AND, the search engine will assume it anyway and retrieve items with all of the search terms.

For example: sustainability AND tourism; diabetes AND feet AND ulcers; housing AND construction AND green

OR broadens your search and ensures that you capture synonyms, antonyms, abbreviations and alternative spellings. Either or all terms will be present in your results set.

For example: youth OR teenager OR adolescent; inclusive OR exclusive; HRM OR “human resource management”

  • Phrase searching  “………………..”

Use double quotation marks to search for a phrase. This command ensures that your terms are searched as a phrase and not as separate terms which will give you more relevant results. If you search for a phrase without using an operator you will retrieve items with both terms whether they are in a phrase or not.

For example: “human resource management”; “green construction”; “compassionate care”

  • Truncation *

Use a truncation mark (often an asterisk *) to expand your search to include all forms of a word. You can use this to find plurals if the database or search engine does not do that automatically. Place the asterisk after the stem of the word to broaden your search. 

For example: manage* searches for manage, manager, management, managerial and so on.

For more advanced search techniques, please contact the academic librarians for help or use the help sections in the database or search engine.