Here are five simple steps to remember when searching for information on your topic:
In this step, think about the purpose of your search and whether you need to search for scholarly resources or use the World Wide Web.
Most search engines are not designed to interpret a "natural language" search (that is, they will not understand a search entered in the form of a question or statement).
In order to retrieve more relevant resuts, identify the main concepts in your research question. Next, brainstorm for synonyms and related words. For example, you could use Terrapins but someone else might use the term Terps; in order to find all of the relevant results you will have to use both terms.
Boolean operators are used to connect keywords in a way that all search engines understand. The most commonly used ones are: AND and OR.
Using AND will make your search more specific / narrower. The results will only include items that use both of your keywords.
Using OR will make your search more inclusive / broader. By using OR the number of your search results will increase. It is useful to use OR when you are unsure which keyword would work best. The results may include one, two or all three of your keywords.
A search for Terps OR Terrapins will produce results that include either term, or both terms within the records retrieved.
Be careful combining AND and OR in the same search sentence as the search engine may not interpret your search the way you intend because of the order of operations (like in math class). Use parentheses to keep ORs together.
Example: Maryland AND (Terps OR Terrapins)
You may also choose to limit your search results by excluding certain terms. To do this, use NOT. For example, if you want articles about a certain journalist's career but not editorials about them, you could search:
(Cronkite AND career) NOT editorials.
Use the NOT connector sparingly, as you may eliminate some articles or information that could be useful. This connector can, however, be a helpful tool if you have a large number of items in your results list and you want to refine your search.
These last two steps are often taken together:
Step 4: Follow the instructions for the database/resource you are using to enter search statements and retrieve results
(Note: Accurate keyboarding skills are helpful here!)
Step 5: A step often missed by searchers, here are some tips to help make your results work for you:
If you find TOO MUCH information, you may need to NARROW your search. Try this:
If you find TOO LITTLE information, you may need to BROADEN your search. Try this:
If you find NOTHING on your topic, ask yourself:
and review your search for:
If what you FIND is not what you WANT, ask yourself: