1. Identify the keywords and synonyms of your research question
2. Construct a search strategy using Boolean operators AND, OR and NOT
3. Understand how to change your search strategy to find more or less sources
Watch this Video on What are Keywords? (From Seneca College Libraries YouTube channel, opens in new window)
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 on RULA’s website and on search sites like Google.
As an expert researcher, you will try different keywords to find a broad range of information sources (books, journals, newspapers).
It's usually easier to come up keywords if you can formulate your topic into a sentence or a question.
What was the cause of failure for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge?
Step 2: Pick your keywords
Figure out your Keywords: Your keywords are the main concepts from the research topic or question.
Use related words and phrases (synonyms): There are multiple ways to express the same concept.
"Tacoma Narrows Bridge" can also be:
Failure Analysis can be:
If one of your synonyms contains more than one word use quotation marks (" ") around the whole phrase to ensure the words are searched for together and not separately.
For Example: "Mobile Payments"
Shorten, or truncate, a keyword by using the symbol "*".
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.
Disabilit* = will find Disability, Disabilities
Wom*n = will find women and woman
colo*r = will find colour, color
politic* = politics, politically, political…
anorex* = anorexia, anorexic
Read the abstract and information about the results and identify potential resources to use.
Try to use fewer keywords
Limit results using facets/limiter functions of website
Adjust your list of keywords as you search and learn about your topic and the appropriate vocabulary.
Research is iterative and you will have to keep searching and improving your search to find all the resources you will need.
You’ll start out finding information on the simple questions like “What does my topic mean” and move onto finding sources that help answer the more fundamental questions of your topic like “why does this matter?”
Sometimes the best thing you can do is take a break and try again in a day or so.
If you get zero results for your search, try a broader term (expand).
Twitter use AND Ontario = 0 results
Twitter use AND Canada = 9 results
If you get thousands of results and are overwhelmed, narrow your topic
Drug use AND Canada = 200,000 results
Marijuana use AND Toronto = 13 results
When searching for sources, you can limit your search to look for the title or author, within a certain date range, in a certain format, and more. This eliminates a lot of irrelevant results immediately. Look for these advanced search options in databases and websites.
When you find a few promising sources, take a moment to analyze the keywords the author(s) are using and incorporate them into your search. Also, when searching the Library's website take a look at the book or article's record to see if keywords are listed.
Expert help is always available! You can come in person, phone, email or chat online with a librarian. Check out the Library's Research Help Page!