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7.4.3: Search Terms

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    How Do Search Terms Influence Results?

    Whether you are searching research databases or conducting general online searches, the search terms and phrases you use will determine what information you find. Following some basic search term guidelines can make the process go smoothly.

    How to Refine Search Terms

    Use multiple words to more narrowly define your search. renewable energy instead of energy
    Place quotation marks around two or more words that you want to search for only in combination, never individually. “renewable energy”
    Use “AND” between words when you want to
    retrieve only articles that include both words.
    algae AND energy
    Use “OR” to find information relating to one of two options but not both. This option works well when you have two terms that mean the same thing and you want to find articles regardless of which term has been chosen for use. ethanol OR ethyl alcohol
    Use “NOT” to eliminate one category of ideas you know a search term will likely generate. algae NOT food
    Use “*” or “?” to include a variety of word endings. This process is often called using a “wildcard.”

    alternate* energy

    alternate? energy

    Use parentheses to combine multiple related terms into one single search using the different options presented in this table. (renewable OR algae OR biofuel OR solar) AND energy

    When you find a helpful article or Internet site, look for additional search terms and sources that you can follow up on. If you don’t have time to follow up on them all when you find them, include them in your research log for later follow-up. When possible, copy and paste terms and links into your log. When you have to retype, take great care with spelling, spacing, and most of all, attributing direct quotations to their original source.

    When you are searching within a database or a certain search engine, pay attention to any search tips or help screens that present methods that work well with the specific database or search engine. For example, you may have the option to narrow your search to “full text” entries only or to refine it to texts published within a certain time frame.


    Prepare for the Unexpected

    Keep track of all the search terms you've used and the results you've found, even if you don't have time to check all the results right away. If your study session or Internet connection are interrupted, you won't lose your work. In other cases, students find promising sources during a search and think they'll remember how to find the source again, but later they don't remember their search terms. Sometimes students click on a link found in one source and find a second source, but fail to note the location of the link. A list can help make sure you don't lose any valuable sources.

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\)



    Information on this page from Choosing Search Terms from Writers' Handbook is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.