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Information Essentials: Advanced search techniques

Why Should I use Search Techniques?

Using search techniques in your research can make a big difference in finding the right information for your assignment. Here's why it's helpful:

  1. Finding what you need: When you use search techniques like combining words with "AND" or "OR" and putting phrases in quotation marks, it helps the search engine understand exactly what you're looking for. This means you get more accurate results that directly relate to your assignment.

  2. Getting rid of the junk: The internet is full of a lot of information that may not be useful for your assignment but by using filters and limiters, you can narrow down your search to specific things like recent articles, scholarly sources, or specific subjects. This way, you can focus on the information that really matters.

  3. Saving time and effort: Instead of spending hours scrolling through tons of irrelevant pages, using search techniques helps you get to the good stuff faster. You can quickly find reliable sources and spend more time analysing and using the information in your assignment.

  4. Getting the best results: By choosing the right keywords, using synonyms, and exploring different search strategies, you can uncover a wider range of information that relates to your assignment. This helps you develop a well-rounded understanding of your topic and produce a stronger assignment overall.

Search Techniques and Strategies

Using the following search techniques and strategies can make your database search more effective and help you find the information you're looking for faster.

Example search string:

"climate change" AND (biodiversity OR "species diversity") AND ("tropical rainforests" OR "equatorial forests")

Instead of just typing in keywords, use search techniques like combining words with "AND" or "OR" and putting phrases in quotation marks to get more accurate results that directly relate to your assignment topic.

  • Using quotation marks (e.g. "climate change") to search for exact phrases tells the database to look for those words in that exact order, helping you find information that matches your specific needs.
  • Using Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) allows you to combine or exclude search terms to refine your results:
    • AND: Use "AND" to retrieve results that include both search terms (e.g., "climate change" AND biodiversity).
    • OR: Use "OR" to retrieve results that include either of the search terms (e.g., biodiversity OR "species diversity").
    • NOT: Use "NOT" to exclude specific terms from your search results (e.g., biodiversity NOT insects).

If you're not sure about the exact word you need, you can use truncation or wildcard symbols like * # or ? to represent different word endings or spellings. It's like giving the search engine or database a wildcard to fill in the blanks.

For example, searching for enviro* would retrieve results for environment, environmental, or environmentalist.

For example, searching for analy#e would retrieve results for analyse or analyze.

  • Watch out for too much or too little: Be careful not to use them too broadly or too narrowly. If you use too many wildcard characters, you might end up with too many results that aren't relevant to your topic. On the other hand, if you use them too conservatively, you might miss out on important variations or related terms.
  • Keep an eye on spelling and context: Truncation and wildcards can help with different word endings or spellings, but they can also bring in unexpected results.

For example, if you search for educat* to capture education, educational, and so on, you might also get words like educator or educational toys that have a different meaning in the context of your research.

  • Check the database rules: Each database has its own rules for using truncation or wildcards. They might have specific symbols or limitations so, before using them, make sure to check the database's tip sheets or search help section to understand how to use truncation or wildcards correctly in that particular database.


Parentheses can help you group search terms and make your search more powerful. You can use them to create complex searches with multiple conditions.


(climate change OR global warming) AND (renewable energy OR solar power)

This search string will give you results that include any of the climate change or global warming terms combined with any of the renewable energy or solar power terms.

Advanced Search Tips

You can get more precise results by using the following advanced search techniques and strategies leading to better information for your assignment.

Take advantage of limiters and filters provided by the database to refine your search. This includes parameters like date range, publication type, language, and subject.


Publication Date: 2010-2020

This retrieves results published within the specified date range.

Explore the database's controlled vocabulary or subject headings and use them in your search. This ensures that your search aligns with the database's standardised terminology, leading to more precise and comprehensive results.


Subject: "Global Warming"

 This retrieves results specifically categorised under the subject heading "Global Warming."

Use proximity operators (e.g., NEAR, ADJ, WITHIN) to find terms within a certain distance of each other. For example, "solar energy" NEAR/3 "efficiency" would retrieve results where the terms are within three words of each other.


"sustainable development" NEAR/3 economy

This retrieves results where the terms "sustainable development" and "economy" appear within three words of each other.

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See Also

Searching databases by Yavapai College Library