Here are some strategies for creating an effective search:

Step 1: Write your topic out in sentence or question form

How did Aboriginals participate in the fur trade in Canada?

Step 2: Break your topic sentence up into main ideas or keywords

aboriginals, fur trading, canada

Step 3: Think of synonyms or alternate words to describe each concept

aboriginals - natives, indians

Tip: Use Google, dictionaries, encyclopedias, or a thesaurus to find alternate words.

Step 4: Add "Boolean operators" (AND, OR) to make a complete search statement

Use AND to limit or narrow your search to results that mention all of your keywords.
Use OR to broaden your search to include synonyms.
aboriginal AND fur trading AND canada
(aboriginals OR natives OR indians) - Note: OR terms must be bracketed.

Step 5: Add wildcards to search for all possible word endings

A wildcard is usually represented by a *.  This is also called truncation.

(aboriginal* OR native* OR indian*) AND fur trad*

Step 6: Consider Key Phrase searching

Some databases search each word separately.  To ensure that your words are evaluated as a key phrase, enclose them in double quotation marks.

"Human Rights"

Step 7: Evaluate your results

If you are finding too many or too few results, try these tricks:

To broaden your search (find more):

Find synonym for each keyword.
Search for a broader concept ('dog' instead of 'poodle').
Use wildcards/truncation.

To narrow your search (find fewer):

Add another concept or idea to your search with AND
Use more specific words ('poodle' instead of 'dog').

Content last updated: September 9, 2014