Regardless of the website or database you are searching – there are search strategies that will help you save time and find the right information easier.

Most Search engines have a similar structure. All will include in some form:

  • space to enter your keywords
  • a button to begin your search (hitting Enter usually works too!)
  • links to Help Pages and Advanced Search options
  • subject categories

In order to be an effective searcher, you must determine the key words related to your topic. It is a good idea to brainstorm a list of words before you attempt to search. Remember, a keyword that works on one search engine may return no results in another.

Basic Searching

Using keywords is by far the easiest form of searching. Enter words relating to your chosen subject in the search box and click on the search button. You will most likely retrieve multiple results so it is necessary to wade through the results to find the appropriate information.

Boolean Searching

To improve your searching efficiency, you should use Boolean Logic. Using the words AND, OR, and NOT will help refine your search.

AND – Connecting your keywords with AND tells the search tool all the words must be present.

e.g. garden AND vegetables – requires that any hit returned would include BOTH words.

 OR – Connecting your keywords with OR tells the search tool any of the words can be present.

e.g. terriers OR poodles – will return pages which have EITHER of the words.

 NOT – Using NOT in front of a key word tells the search tool to exclude any page containing that word.

cats NOT dogs – will return any pages that have cats in the text, but will exclude any mention both cats and dogs.

Phrase Searching

When you are searching for a phrase, enclose it in “quotation marks”. The quotation marks tell the search tool that the words enclosed in quotes must be exactly as they were typed, and in the same order. Most search engines (including Google) recognize this protocol.

e.g. “indoor soccer” tells the search tool to look for the words as a phrase. Both words must be present and appear next to each other in the same order.


Using an * at the end of words allows you to search for terms with multiple suffixes. It is also useful for words with multiple spellings (and words that you don’t know how to spell!).

e.g Slow* would search for the terms Slow, Slowly, Slowest.

Default Boolean Logic

If you merely type key words into a search form as in a simple search, you must understand which of the Boolean operators is used as the default. Many search tools use OR as the default. If you type in two or more words, the tool assumes you mean OR. Only a few tools use AND as the default. This could radically affect your search!!

This resource was compiled by the Girvan Library with information from Baltimore County Public Schools: