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Research Process :: Step by Step

Are you finding too much information or perhaps not enough? Use alternative, narrower, or broader keywords to vary your results.

General Search Strategies

The easiest way to search for information electronically is to enter a couple of keywords into the search box of the resource and see what type of results you get. This strategy, however, will often result in too few, too many, or irrelevant results.

In order to retrieve the most relevant results, you will need to construct a search string.  A search string is a combination of keywords, truncation symbols, and boolean operators you enter into the search box of an electronic library resource or an Internet search engine.

Boolean searching is the traditional way to search for information in most online databases and on the Internet. Boolean operators are connector words (AND, OR, and NOT) used to create phrases and concepts based on specific rules of search logic.  

AND and NOT will both narrow your results, while OR will broaden your results. These operators can be used in a longer string to refine your results.

Operator Examples Results

business AND ethics
cookery AND Spain

Retrieves records that contain    
ALL of the search terms.

hotels OR motels
www OR world wide web
theater OR theatre

Retrieves records that contain
ANY of the search terms, but
does not necessarily include
all of them.

java NOT coffee
Clinton NOT (William OR Bill)    

Excludes records containing
the second search term.
Combined tea AND (coffee OR espresso) NOT mocha

Tea must appear in the results with either coffee or espresso, or both.

Any results with mocha will be excluded.

Google Search Strategies

Many of us begin building content knowledge through Google. Use the following notes to help understand how to navigate Google more efficiently.

Results will typically include each word or punctuation mark included in the search query. Some stop words or exceptions apply.

If your initial search query does not produce the desired results, keep these functions in mind:

Google Functions Examples
Queries are not case sensitive.

Barack Obama and barack obama will retrieve the same results.


Keep search queries simple and descriptive and use as few terms as possible. Avoid natural language queries as they can limit your results.

Use colorado statehood instead of when did colorado first become a state.

Google automatically truncates search terms. To prevent automatic truncation, use a + sign in front of each term.

A query on child retrieves results with 'children" and "childcare".

Use double quotations marks ("") to search terms as a phrase and narrow your results. Google will only retrieve results that have those exact terms in the exact order typed.

A query on "Barack Hussein Obama II" will retrieve only those sites that refer to Obama by his full name. Sites that refer to him as simply 'Barack Obama' may be overlooked.

Use the site: feature to limit your results to a specific website or class of websites.

The query cloning will only retrieve articles about cloning from the online version of the Wall Street Journal. A query on cloning will only retrieve results within the government domain.

To allow for either of several words to appear in your results, use the OR operator. The operator must be in all caps.

A query on hotel OR lodging OR inn directories will retrieve any or all of the types of directories mentioned.