Hints and tips for searching

Done a resource search and still not found anything? Or are you getting too many results? Here are a few tips for altering the search.

Make sure you understand and interpret the question before searching

Pick out the subject words from the title and search for just those - if you put the whole question in, you will get fewer or no hits.

e.g. What is the effect of climate change on the tourism industry in Australia?

Just search for the words in bold.

Not enough appropriate results

Think of alternative words with the same or similar meanings and search for those instead (e.g. Higher Education instead of University).

Think of a concept that is a little wider than your original choice (e.g. instead of Key Stage 1, look for Primary Education; instead of television, look for media).

Choose keywords from the topic you have chosen and search for those, instead of all of the terms in the question (e.g. instead of 'the impact of higher petrol taxes on annual car mileage', search for 'petrol tax car use').

Change the search tool you are using - it may be that another one will yield more results.

Too many results

Lots of search tools will rank the most relevant results first, or you can change the result set to order by relevance yourself.

Add more keywords to your search, e.g. add a population group such as 'children', or a country, to make it more specific (only do this if the question you are answering requires this level of detail).

Check the dates of the results - do you want to refine them to recent publications only, or re-order the results list to most recent first?

Other search tips

Remember that search tools can be literal and need to be told exactly what you mean. There are established shortcuts to help with this. Common ones include

  • using an asterisk (*) at the end of a stem of a word to find any ending, e.g. learn* wil automatically search for learners, learning, learned, learnt, etc.;
  • using a hashtag (#) to find words with alternative spellings, e.g. colo#r will find both colour and color;
  • putting words you want to find together in quotation marks, e.g. "higher education", "global warming".

Why should we bother searching out information like this? This video investigates the person at work behind the algorithms that present search results, and why that is something it is important to consider.

CC BY 4.0

Search Success is based on SMILE by Imperial College, Loughborough University and the University of Worcester, modified by Information Learning Services at York St John University. It is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.‌