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Graduate, Online, and Distance Research

Research information and resources for VCSU graduate, online, and distance students.

Search Strategies

One of the most important things to keep in mind when using any type of search engine, from Google to academic databases, is that search engines don't understand the meaning of language or comprehend your intentions - they simply search for the words you enter. For that reason, choosing good search terms and building good searches is the best way to ensure a successful search.

Here are a few strategies that can make your search more effective:

  • plan your search terms
    • It can be helpful to state your information need as a question or phrase, then break it down to the most basic forms of your keywords and concepts and, if necessary, identify possible synonyms.
    • For example: Environmental effects of fracking in North Dakota would be:
      • North Dakota AND fracking AND environmental
      • Possible synonyms for these terms might include hydraulic fracturing for fracking, and ecological for environmental.
      • It won't be necessary to include a version of effects in your search terms, since articles about fracking and the environment in North Dakota are already likely to discuss the effects.
    • The Advanced Search screen available in most databases provides you with a number of features to help you fine tune your search.
    • You can usually find the link to the Advanced Search screen below the main search box.
    • For information about specific Advanced Search features, go to the Using Advanced Search Features page of this guide.
    • It will likely take several tries before you hit on the best combination of search terms and options - give yourself plenty of time, and be open to a process of trial and error.
    • Pay attention to the behavior and results of your searches - you may discover something that allows you to further refine your search for better results.
    • Take note of the titles, keywords, and subjects assigned to the relevant articles you find, and use this information to help you search for more.
    • Don't give up! If you need help, just ask us! You can use the chat windows, email, or schedule an appointment.

Search Strategies Video from Minitex

This video from Minitex presents some of the basic search strategies addressed above. Its focus is on using databases in the Electronic Library of Minnesota (ELM), but the strategies presented here are generally applicable to most databases you will encounter.