Skip to Main Content

Library DIY

Navigating UWG library resources and research

How to search

Your search strategies will depend partly on which research tools you use. For example, library databases usually require that you use a limited number of search terms that are descriptive of your research topic. You may need to try different search terms and combinations of terms before you get results.

Search engines like Google tend to be less picky about your terms. However, Google search results also usually require more careful evaluation of  source credibility, since it includes a larger number of sources from a wider range of places. 

This page describes search strategies for general searching, as well as for databases.


General search tips

Keep it simple! Start by typing the name of a relevant thing, place, or concept:

  • [puppy training tips]
  • [london dinner cruise]

Add relevant words if you don't see what you want after doing a simple search:

  • First try: [puppy]
  • More precise: [puppy training]
  • Even more precise: [large breed puppy training class]

It may take several attempts to find the right words to describe your topic.

Try other words to describe what you're looking for:

  • Not ideal: [my head hurts]
  • Not ideal: [why is my head killing me]
  • Better: [headache]

Use only the important words. Too many words will limit your results:

  • Not ideal[country where bats are an omen of good luck]
  • Better: [bats good luck]

Use quotation marks to search for an exact phrase to narrow results.

  • Less precise: [medical error] without quotations retrieves results with those two words anywhere in the document
  • More precise: ["medical error"] finds results only for that exact phrase.

Use an asterisk (*) as a truncation symbol to search for all endings to a word. (This works in most databases and in Google.)

  • [mexic*] searches for Mexico, Mexican, and Mexicans

Database search tips

Too many results

Start Small! Begin with just one or a few search terms. Add additional terms if you have too many results.

Use good search terms. Use terms that are more specific. Do not use OR between terms that mean different things (for example, do not search [women OR salary]

Too few search terms. If you only have one general term in the search box, consider adding another word that expressed what aspect of that term you are interested in.

Use limiters. Limiters (such as date, format, language of publication) give you more targeted results.

Topic is too broadNarrow the scope of your search. Think about the different aspects of your topic you will address and search for them separately. Then synthesize the information. You may need to narrow your topic if it is too large to cover in a short paper.

Too few results

Is this the best database for your topic? If you are using a subject-specific database (Education, Psychology, etc), try a multidisciplinary database like Academic Search Complete or a specialized search engine like Google Scholar. Be prepared to try several different databases. If you need a subject-specific database, look at the Subject Guides or Course Guides

Use good search termsCheck spelling and brainstorm synonyms or related terms. You can use OR between synonyms (for example: salary OR pay OR compensation). 

Too many search terms. If you have three or more search terms, try removing one to see if your results improve.

Too many limiters. Use only limiters that are absolutely necessary.

Your topic is too narrow. What is the broader theme of your topic? Break your topic down and search for different parts separately. For example, if you are comparing primary school education in China and Spain, search for articles about each country separately. Then synthesize the information you find. 

UWG Library catalog search tips

Looking for books, print journals or media? Search the UWG Library Catalog

Can you use a limiter to focus your results? Use the facets on the left side of the search results page to limit by subject, author, language, etc.

Looking for a specific article? If you know the journal title for an online journal article, search our A-Z E-Journals List.

Or you use Google Scholar and search for the article title. If you see View It@West Georgia next to the citation, then we have it. 

Looking for Class Reserves? Find Course Reserves via the UWG Library Catalog.