Search Techniques

Here are some simple search techniques that can increase the relevance of your results and save you a lot of time.

You can use them in library databases and catalogues or on search sites like Google.rulers-and-pencil

  • Figure out your Keywords: Your keywords are the main concepts or ideas of your paper. For example the keywords for a paper on “youth employment in Canada” would be:
    • Youth
    • Employment
    • Canada
  • Use synonyms: Often there are multiple ways to express the same concept. For example these synonyms mean essentially the same thing – make sure to use them:
  • employment can also be:
    • job
    • work
    • career
  • Teenagers can be:
    • Adolescents
    • Youth
    • young people
  • Use quotation marks: If one of your synonyms contains more than one word (e.g., First Nations) use quotation marks (” “) around the whole phrase (e.g., “First Nations”) to ensure the words are searched for together and not separately.
  •  Truncate: Shortening, or truncating, a keyword by using symbols such as “*” or “?” is an excellent way to improve your search results. For example, canad* will retrieve results for the words Canada, Canadian, and Canadians. Truncating means you don’t have to search for these words separately by typing each one individually.
  •  Use “AND” and “OR”: By bridging your truncated keywords and synonyms with the capitalized search words “AND” and “OR” (known as Boolean operators), you can search for multiple concepts effectively.
  •  Use parentheses: Using parentheses ( ), called “nesting,”  groups terms together so you can combine even more concepts. For example: (teenagers OR adolescents) AND (beliefs OR attitudes) AND alcohol.
  •  Use limiters:  Limit your search to look only for the title or author, within a certain date range, in a certain format, and more. This eliminates a lot of irrelevant results immediately. (These are found in the advanced search options in either databases and websites).
  •  Advanced Search OptionsEverywhere you search, from the library catalogue, to article databases, to Google and Yahoo, there will be a Help page for search tips and a Advanced Search options page. Explore these pages for site-specific search tips.


Synonyms, quotes, truncation, Boolean, and nesting in action: 

(Teenagers OR Adolescents OR Youth) AND (Jobs OR employment OR work) AND Canada

Tip Box If Boolean looks complicated you can repeat searches by using different keywords:
Search 1: Teenagers AND jobs AND Canada
Search 2: Adolescents AND employment AND Canada