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Search tips and planning

Searching is a trial-and-error process. A good idea is to explore different approaches. This means trying different search terms, databases, and techniques to experiment with how your search results change.

There is no one right way to search, but these tips can help improve your results.

Break it into steps

Approach your search with these simple steps. Click on each of the steps to learn more.

Use search techniques

Two common problems you might face include finding too many results or not enough. Try using the techniques below to broaden or narrow your search.

Note: To access table on mobile devices switch to 'landscape mode'

Search technique When to use it?Example What it does?
AND Searching for two different concepts Teenager AND “social media” Narrows search results
OR Searching for two similar concepts Teenager OR adolescent Broadens search results
NOT Excluding a term from your search Teenager NOT child Narrows search results
Truncation (*) Searching for alternative word endings Teen* Broadens search results
Phrase searching (“”) Searching for an exact phrase “social media” Narrows search results
Wildcard (?) Searching for alternative spelling Organi?ation Broadens search results
Using brackets Grouping concepts in a single search box (teen* OR adolescent) AND “social media” Allows grouping of keywords within a single search box

Note: Some databases use different symbols to apply these search techniques. Check the help menu in a database to learn more.

Understanding search techniques

Let’s explore these techniques in more detail. Imagine you want to find information on the use of social media among teenagers.

Learn how each technique can help you below.


Have a go at applying some of the search techniques in the below activities.

Plan your search

Like to take notes? Try using our search planner to make notes about your topic, search terms and to plan a search strategy.

Where to next?

Now that you have learnt about search techniques and how to plan your search, the next step is to start applying these strategies.

A good starting place is the Library Search on the library homepage. We also recommend that you visit the relevant Library Resource Guide for your subject area to get to know which databases to start with.

If you need further advice, contact your librarian for specialist support.

Contact us

Get quick answers and tips to get the most from your Library. Contact our library staff for help, support or to give feedback.