Search tips to be genuinely professional

Olvasási idő: 5 perc

In this article, we present you some effective search techniques that you can use in our library catalog and on other search interfaces. Hopefully, these techniques will make it easier for you to find the relevant books, articles or studies you need. These techniques and methods can be used in case of simple Google searches and on more complicated database search interfaces as well.

To start with, there are some basic advices you have to keep in mind during the whole search process:

  • Unleash your imagination! Don’t stick to just one or two basic search terms.
  • Thoroughly browse the broader literature of your topic to get a good starting point.
  • Always take notes! Write down which tactics you have tried so far, evaluate the methods, so you will see which methods are not working.
  • Rethink your search terms, tactics and methods! You may need to change your usual, routine search process.
  • Feel free to ask librarians for help!
  • Chat with the librarian:
  • Ask the librarian!
  • If necessary, narrow down or expand your topic! You can start with a specific, narrower topic, and if you don’t find any relevant results, gradually expand the topic or you can start searching on a more general topic and, based on the results, move towards an increasingly specific topic.
  • You have to be careful because choosing a very specific topic can result in not getting any results. In this case, it is worth expanding the search area a bit.
  • If you feel you have chosen the wrong topic and you cannot find anything useful, as a first step, search differently and ask for help. If it’s still not working, put aside the search, do something else for a bit and rest! If you still don’t feel it’s a good fit, go ahead and look for another topic!
  • It is important to clarify what is your goal with the results. Are you writing a dissertation? Or an essay? Maybe a brief assessment? Are you looking for simple but educational materials for your personal interest or do you want the research to be utterly scientific? All of these aspects affect where and how you search.

The search expression

In order to perform your search, it is essential to find the right search term and choose the perfect search tactics. The search expression always consists of the most relevant keywords, and the keywords should always be the words that best describe your topic.

You need to determine what expressions professionals use in the area you are studying and it helps if you already know your specific field of science. Too specific expressions may not lead you to helpful results. You can filter false positives, and be careful with words that may not be the common form of the term. You can modify your search terms based on relevant results. If you notice that a term is more accepted than others or it is used more times, work with it!

Do not search with half or whole sentences – always work with only 2-3 relevant keywords at a time. If you do not get relevant results, you can vary the keywords, replace them, link them with other logical components. Mind the wording! A generic expression can result in too many hits, while a specific and concise one can result in too few, so you need to filter the keywords first and find the ones you can work with.

What to do if you are not sure of a character within a word or if a word is used and accepted in several ways, such as in gray/grey? In this case, you have to insert the * (asterisk) character in place of the character you are uncertain, for example: gr*y, so that you will get a hit containing both spellings.

To search for an expression with an exact match, enclose it in quotation marks, for example, “grey” and you will get hits only with this specific spelling.

Truncation and wild cards

Truncation, also called stemming, is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings.

  • To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end.
  • The database will return results that include any ending of that root word.
  • Examples:
    child* = child, childs, children, childrens, childhood
    genetic* = genetic, genetics, genetically
  • Truncation symbols may vary by database; common symbols include: *, !, ?, or #


Similar to truncation, wildcards substitute a symbol for one letter of a word.

  • This is useful if a word is spelled in different ways, but still has the same meaning.
  • Examples:
    wom!n = woman, women
    colo?r = color, colour

What to look for:

  • Root words that have multiple endings.  Example: sun = suns, sunshine, sunny, sunlight
  • Words that are spelled differently, but mean the same thing.  Example: color, colour
  • Truncation/wildcard symbols vary by database.  Check the help screens to find out which symbols are used.

Boolean Searching

  1. “Endangered Species” AND “Global Warming” – When you combine search terms with AND, you’ll get results in which BOTH terms are present. Using AND limits the number of results because all search terms must appear in your results.

AND operator

  1. “Arizona Prisons” OR “Rhode Island Prisons” – When you use OR, you’ll get results with EITHER search term. Using OR increases the number of results because either search term can appear in your results.

OR operator

  1. “Miami Dolphins” NOT “Football” – When you use NOT, you’ll get results that exclude a search term. Using NOT limits the number of results.

NOT operator


Literature used

Horváth Tibor, Papp István (szerk.): Könyvtárosok kézikönyve. II. köt. Budapest, Osiris Kiadó, 2003. 148-159.p.

Ungváry Rudolf, Vajda Erik: Könyvtári információkeresés (2021.08.18.) (2021.08.18.) (2021.08.18.)



 Original article written by Virágné Barcza Zsuzsanna

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