7. Online Search Techniques

In this chapter, you will learn various search techniques to help you get better results when you perform searches online. You may not need to use these techniques all at once, but you will be searching more effectively and efficiently when using these techniques appropriately.

As with other techniques, you need to practice to be good at it. The more often you apply these techniques, the more proficient you will become. If you have any questions about formulating keywords or using search techniques for your search, ask a librarian!

7.1 Using Appropriate Keywords for Searches

The keywords you use for searches are extremely important in retrieving relevant and useful resources for your research. Here are some techniques and tips for selecting and finding useful keywords:

1. Use essential concepts. Don't use natural language. Here are some examples:

Natural Language

Essential Concept

Search Terms

Additional Search Terms

should drinking age be lowered to 18?

drinking age

"drinking age"


issues faced by single parents

single parents

"single parents"




2. Broaden or narrow your search terms. Some concepts are too broad for searching relevant resources while some are too narrow and retrieve few or no results. You will need to narrow or broaden you search terms depending on your research topic. Here are some examples:


Broader Terms

Narrower Terms

Related Terms



green building;

green products; sustainable design;

energy consumption


environmental protection; environmental economics;

human consumption;

human ecology


learning disabilities;

reading disabilities



cognition & reasoning

global warming

climate change

greenhouse effect;

carbon dioxide;

greenhouse gases

environmental protection

3. Pick up new search terms from search results. Some databases provide "suggested topics" based on your search. Those can be useful as well.

4. Use search techniques like Boolean search and truncation to combine search terms for relevant results.

5. Check your spelling. Computers are literal. They do not associate meaning or see any connection between related items the way humans do.

6. Use synonyms, related terms or alternate spellings to expand your search.

7.2 Boolean Search (video 3:16)

- using 'AND', 'OR', 'NOT' to combine search terms for precise searches

7.3 Truncation (video 1:48)

- how to truncate a word, and how truncation helps to expand searches

7.4 Phrase Search (video 1:10)

- using double quotations to search terms as a phrase

7.5 Search Fields (video 4:21)

- learn about different search fields and how to choose appropriate search fields for different search terms

Next session: 7.6 Tips for Using Search Engines