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Research Without Pain: 2a. Develop a Search Strategy

Research can be fun if you follow these simple steps.

Stringing a Search

Most students search for information on the Internet by entering a couple of keywords into the search box.  This strategy, however, will usually result in too many results, many of which are irrelevant. In ideal search produces only a dozen or so results, all of which are targeted to your information need.  To get results like that, you need to know how to construct an appropriate search string.  It is a little like stringing beads on a necklace -- you combine carefully selected keywords in phrases, and use other advanced searching techniques like domain limits and and boolean operators to produce a powerful string of search terms. The more terms you string together, the more focused the search is.

Boolean Operators

Boolean searching is the traditional way to search for information in most online databases and on the Internet. Boolean operators or connector words, such as AND, OR, and NOT, are used to create phrases and concepts based on specific rules of search logic.  

 Operator   Examples Results

 business AND ethics
 cookery AND Spain

 Retrieves records that contain    
 ALL of the search terms.

 hotels OR motels
 www OR world wide web
 theater OR theatre

 Retrieves records that contain
 ANY of the search terms, but
 does not necessarily include
 all of them.

 java NOT coffee
 Clinton NOT (William OR Bill)    

 Excludes records containing
 the second search term.

Search Engine Strategies

These search strategies work with Google and many other search engines.

Search Strategies Examples
Use double quotations marks ("") to search terms as a phrase and narrow your results. Google will only retrieve results that have those exact terms in the exact order typed.

Use caution!  A query on Barack Hussein Obama II will retrieve only those sites that refer to Obama by his full name. Sites that refer to him as simply 'Barack Obama' may be overlooked.


Use the site: feature to limit your results to a specific website or class of websites.

The query cloning will only retrieve articles about cloning from the online version of the Wall Street Journal. A query on cloning will only retrieve results within the government domain.

Use very descriptive search terms, harvested from your overview reading.  Personal names, dates, geographic location, etc make good terms.

If you are searching for information on a topic related to abolition, using search terms such as "Harper's Ferry" "John Brown" 1869 "Republican Party Platform, 1860" will produced very targeted results.

Google automatically truncates search terms. To prevent automatic truncation, use a + sign in front of each term.

A query on child retrives results with 'children" and "childcare".

Use a - sign in front of a term in a search string when you want to eliminate that term from the search results.

Falcons -Atlanta will return results related to the bird, not to the football team.


To allow for either of several words to appear in your results, use the OR operator. The operator must be in all caps.

A query on hotel OR lodging OR inn directories will retrieve any or all of the types of directories mentioned.