Search Tips

Find information on:

  • Starting research with key words
  • Searching online
  • Alternative search engines

*Note: Many of these search tips work on Google, but are even better suited to searches on the library catalogue.


1. Make lists of related words and phrases

  • A good starting point involves thinking about your research question.
  • Try writing down keywords, synonyms or related terms.
  • Use the key word grid and video below to help you.


2. Use effective search techniques

  • Watch the video below by McMaster University Library for a summary of search tips:


  • Boolean operators  AND, OR, NOT can help refine your searches. Use AND to link between keywords. Use OR to get more results. Include NOT to exclude unrelated terms. See the Boolean Infographic below for examples.
Boolean Operators function.

Boolean Operators

  • Different word endings: use the truncation symbol (*). Example: child* would give results for child, children and childhood.
  • Different spellings: use wildcards (?). Example: Gr?y returns results for grey and gray, allowing for the English and the US spelling.
  • Exact phrase: use “double quotation marks” around your phrase. Example: “Abstract Expressionism” would give results for that specific phrase.
  • Include URL endings: for a government source, type after your term. For higher education, type
  • File type: insert the file type after the search terms. Example: Roland Barthes PDF.
  • Specific information: use the in text function for more relevant results i.e. Nick Knight intext: McQueen.


3. Use Google wisely

A radiant turret lit by the midsummer midnight sun: Frank Hurley, collection of the State Library of New South Wales


  • Most searches on Google will only result in seeing the tip of the iceberg.
  • Google works through a ranking system, which means you will get the most linked websites at the top of your results rather than the most helpful for your needs. For example, you will often get a Wikipedia entry for the very top hit. Although Wikipedia can give a useful overview, do not cite it as the pages can be changed by anybody so the information is not always reliable.
  • Results will vary from moment to moment and are not always consistent.
  • Use the search commands above to filter out results that are not relevant.
  • Open a private window to get rid of any personalisation on your search engine, and you may find the results change.


4. Try alternatives 

  • Google Scholar is an academic version of Google that restricts your search results to just academic literature such as books and journals. You can use the “cited by” link below each article to find authors who have utilised the source in more recent research. “Related articles” will be helpful too.


Google Scholar Search Example

Google Scholar Search Example, showing ‘cite by’ function in yellow.


  • Bing is best if you want to use Boolean search terms such as AND and NOT to filter out unwanted results.
  • Millionshort (run through Bing) gets rid of top hits and cuts out sites focused on selling.
  • DuckDuckGo is favoured by internet users who wish to stay anonymous and not be tracked when they are searching, cutting out unwanted targeted advertisements and stopping the browser from personalising your search.
  • Dogpile is a metasearch engine which gets results from several main and popular search engines, including those from audio and video content providers.
  • Yandex is Russian so you might get a different perspective if you are searching a news item for example
  • Carrotsearch has some amazing visual properties, generating results in circles or “foam trees”.


Study Skills Toolbox
Try the Keyword grid to write down key words/phrases for searching.  

E-book resources 

Try these resources from Ebook Central: