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Finding and Evaluating Web Sources: Search Strategies

This guide gives tips and tricks for finding web sources and evaluating their value for academic research.

Introduction

A lot of the content you'll find online will be organized into a type of database. This means you can search them using the same tricks and techniques you use to search library databases.

This page will give pointers on phrase searching and Boolean Operators. Ask a Librarian to get more help with search strategies.

What if Boolean Operators don't work?

Some databases and search engines don't support Boolean Operators or wildcard characters. Many of them will state that near the search box, but you should be able to find more information about advanced search techniques in a website's Help or FAQ pages.

Boolean Operators in Action: AND

Boolean Operators in Action: OR

Boolean Operators in Action: NOT

Phrase searching

What other search strategies are there?

In addition to "phrase searching," and Boolean operators, you can also try using wildcard searches

Like truncation, wildcard searches will expand your results. Wildcard searches allow the database to replace the wildcard symbol with any letters that would make up a real word. It's like a shorthand way of typing every possible word that fits the pattern with OR in between. Not only will this save you time, but it might also give you alternative keywords you hadn't even thought of.

Here's a table to illustrate how some of these symbols (including the truncation asterisk) typically work.

Symbol What it does Sample search Instead of typing
* replaces zero or more letters at the end of a word comput* computer OR computing OR computational OR...
# replaces at most one letter ne#t net OR neat OR next OR nest OR...
? replaces only one letter b?t bat OR bet OR bit OR bot OR but OR...

 

REMEMBER: Some databases may use these symbols differently or may use different symbols, so check the database's help section if you're having problems with wildcards.