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ORGL 3113 Foundations of Organizational Leadership and Personal Development (BA): Search Tips

Searching Tips

There is a lot of content in this box, be sure to scroll down for additional tips/techniques.

  • Be prepared with synonyms for your search terms in case your original search produces limited results.  Use the "Subject Terms" or "Thesaurus" feature for the database you are searching for additional help with finding relevant subjects.
  • Pay attention to any search tips or help screens provided by each database.  Even experienced researchers (like professors and librarians!) can have trouble when dealing with a new interface.  Take the time to learn how to use the tool (database/print resource) -- it will help you to avoid frustration later.
  • Remember that most databases allow for Boolean Searching
  • Boolean Operators (AND, OR, NOT)
    • Use AND to focus your search and combine different aspects of your topic.
      • Example: global warming AND agriculture will return only those articles that contain both terms.
    • Use OR to expand your search and find synonyms/related terms.
      • Example: global warming OR greenhouse effect with return any article that contains either term.
    • Use NOT to exclude a word or phrase from your search.
      • Example: agriculture NOT soybean will return articles on every form of agriculture except soybean.
  • Phrase searching is another useful technique for narrowing a search to retrieve the most relevant results. 
  • Use quotation marks (") to search for an exact phrase.
    • Example: "greenhouse gas emissions" will only return hits on the exact phrase (not the individual words).
  • Wildcard and Truncation are also  useful techniques for expanding a search to retrieve all relevant results.  For example, type
  • Use a question mark (?) or a pound sign (#) to act as wildcard characters.
    • To use the ? wildcard, enter your search terms and replace each unknown character with a ?.
      • Example: ne?t would retrieve articles containing neat, nest, or next.
    • To use the # wildcard, enter the # in places where an alternate spelling may contain an extra character.
      • Example: am#eba would retrieve articles containing ameba or amoeba.
  • Use an asterisk (*) to find variations of a word.  Put an asterisk following the root of a word to find all variations of that word (including singular as well as plural).
    • Example: biolog* will retrieve documents containing the words biology, biological, biologist . . .
  • Grouping/Nesting
  • Use parentheses to assist is grouping like concepts togethers in the search string.
    • Example: saturn NOT (automobile or car) AND gases will return articles on Saturn, the planet, not Saturn the car manufacturer.
  • Proximity Operators
  • You can use a proximity search to search for two or more words that occur within a specified number of words (or fewer) of each other in the databases. Proximity searching is used with a Keyword or Boolean search.
  • The proximity operators are composed of a letter (N or W) and a number (to specify the number of words). The proximity operator is placed between the words that are to be searched, as follows:
  • Near Operator (N) - N5 finds the words if they are within five wordsof one another regardless of the order in which they appear.
  • For example, type tax N5 reform to find results that would match tax reform as well as reform of income tax.
  • Within Operator (W) - In the following example, W8 finds the words if they are within eight words of one another and in the order in which you entered them.
  • For example, type tax W8 reform to find results that would match tax reform but would not match reform of income tax.
  • In addition, multiple terms can be used on either side of the operator. See the following examples:
  • (baseball or football or basketball) N5 (teams or players)
  • oil W3 (disaster OR clean-up OR contamination)
  • Contact a subject specialist librarian for help:

If you need a better understanding of Boolean logic and searching, here are a few resources to help:

Evaluating Websites

It's important to remember that publishing on the web is very easy - almost anyone can do it! The problem with that is knowing what's credible (worth your time) and what's not. 

There are five main criteria that I use when evaluating a website:

  • Accuracy
  • Authority
  • Currency
  • Objectivity
  • Coverage

Some of the things you want to look at or for in a website include:

  • the URL (.gov, .mil, .us, .edu are usually pretty credible); 
  • links to information about the author or sponsoring organization; 
  • links to other sites that are credible; 
  • the currency of the page (is it updated regularly?);
  • no broken links.

Ultimately the researcher must be the one to determine whether or not to use information found on a website. Below are a couple of links to websites that provide some excellent guidelines for evaluating resources and websites:

Tips for Searching Google

While Google is frowned upon as a serious source for your research and most (if not all) of your professors will not accept a Google document as scholarly research (Google Scholar is a little bit better), it can certainly be used as an initial information finding research tool from which you can refine your ideas and gather preliminary information before exploring other credible/reputable tools and/or resources.

Here are some tips and tricks for getting "more" out of your google searches (courtesy of  If you are more of a visual learner and would like to see the below information presented as an infographic, check out the "Get More Out Of Google" link above.

Did you know there is a lot more to efficient Googling than you might think?  In a recent study on student research skills, 3 out of 4 students couldn't perform a "well-executed search" on Google.  When the success of your term paper hangs in the balance, using Google effectively is crucial, but most students surprisingly just don't know how.

Here are some crucial tips for refining your Googling, as well as, some other great places to hunt down that last study you need for your thesis.

1. How to Google

Search terms called "operators" can help you get far more specific results than you would by only using generic search terms.  Here are some of the most useful.

What You Want

NY Times articles about test scores in college, but not the SATs, written between 2008 and 2010


How to Google It: ~college "test scores" -SATs 2008..2010 = site: then the url of the site only searches the pages of that site.
~college = the tilde in front of a word will also search related words, such as 'higher education' and 'university.'
"test scores" =  quotation marks around a phrase searches for the exact phrase, not each of the words separately.
-SATs = the minus sign before your search term excludes this term from the search.
2008..2010 = using the two dots will show all results from within the designated time range. 

What You Want

A report on the different air speed velocities of common swallows.  Note: don't ask Google questions.  Think about how an answer would be phrased, and search for that (i.e.., never search for "what is the air speed velocity . . . ")


How to Google It: 

filetype:pdf air speed intitle: veolocity of *swallow

filetype:pdf = filetype: searches only results of the file type you designate.  Can use for pdf, doc, jpg, etc.
intitle:velocity = intitle: only shows results with that word in the title (in this case, "velocity").
*swallow =  the asterisk replaces itself with common terms in your search (in this case, Red Rumped swallow and Lesser Striped swallow will both be searched, along with many others).
-SATs = the minus sign before your search term excludes this term from the search.
2008..2010 = using the two dots will show all results from within the designated time range. 

2. Google Scholar

For most projects you work on in college, simple  Googling won't do the trick on its own.  Enter Google Scholar, which exclusively searches academic and scholarly work - that is, the kind of work you'll need to be citing in your papers.

What You Want

Papers about photosynthesis by Dr. Ronald L. Green and Dr. Thomas P. Buttz


How to Google It: 

author:green photosynthesis "tp buttz"

author: green = this will search for papers by Green rather than papers involving the word "green."
photosynthesis = just like a normal Google search, this is where the topic you're looking for goes.
"tp buttz" = for more specific results, you can put the authors full name or initials inside quotation marks. 

3. Other Google Tricks

For most projects you work on in college, simple  Googling won't do the trick on its own.  Enter Google Scholar, which exclusively searches academic and scholarly work - that is, the kind of work you'll need to be citing in your papers.


Good for quick word definitions.  Just put define: in front of the word you want.

define: angary


For quick math problems, don't worry about opening your calculator app.  Just type the equation into  Google using +, -, *, / and parentheses for basic functions.


Unit Converter

Easiest unit conversion ever.  Just type what you're looking for in a sentence with  the units you have and want.

54 pounds in kilograms

4. Keyboard Shortcuts

90% of internet users don't know how to use "Command + F" to find items on a page.  If you're one of those 90%, this section is for you.*
* as 70% of students use Macs, we formatted these tips for Mac users, but many of them will work for PCs if you press "CTRL" instead of "Command."

Find on Page

The most important keyboard shortcut for research, ever.  Press "Command + F" when looking at any document or web page, type in the word you're trying to find, and presto, all instances of the word are highlighted for you.

Zoom In/Out

Sometimes online PDFs make for strained reading.  Bump up the size a few notches with  these simple commands:
"Command + the Plus" key (zooms in);  "Command + the Minus" key (zooms out).

Select the Address Bar

Doing rapid Google searches in a number of tabs can be fatiguing.  Instead of mousing up tot he address bar every time, just hit "Command" + the L" key and it's already selected.

Cycle Windows and Apps

Research on the computer is always plagues by window and app clutter that grows as your work does.  Use "Command + ` (the key above the tab key on the left side) to cycle through windows in a certain application, or "Command + the Tab" key to cycle applications.


Sometimes, for whatever reason, you might need to capture the state of your  screen, or an image  from a document. "Command + Shift + 3" screen captures your whole screen; "Command + Shift + 4" lets you draw a box around a specific area of your screen you wish to capture.

5. Further Research Tips


Use Your Library's Website

Google should never be your only research option.  Most colleges' library web pages have links to wealths of resources at your disposal.  This is  where you can find  access to scholarly databases (such as JSTOR, and others), which publish content that you can't access for free elsewhere.

Don't Cite Wikipedia

Let's face it: we all use Wikipedia when conducting research.  It's a great first resource to familiarize one's self with a topic, but using Wiki for a research paper is a deadly academic sin.  But if you find a good wiki, check out the reference links at the bottom  for more credible sources.

Mine Bibliographies

This tip is applicable for both digital and traditional research.  If you find a great book, study, or article, chances are it cites some other great sources.  Always thoroughly  explore the bibliographies of your research materials for leads and look up everything you find that seems promising.

6. References

The original references are available in the article/infographic (the link to this infographic is at the top of this box).

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