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Summer at Brown: Composing the Academic Essay

Build Strong Search Terms

A good search term is the key to effectively and rapidly finding information on the internet. Check out the Unofficial Google Advanced Search

Tips:

1) Be specific. Consider including the location, time period, synonyms or specific terminology. 

For example, the term ‘eating disorders’ might become ‘anorexic eating disorders in the 1980’s among men’. 

2) Link your terms in specific ways. Using AND, OR, NOT can structure the search engines' assumptions about the order in which the terms should appear in a webpage. A better search term is: ‘anorexic AND eating disorders AND 1980’s AND men’

3) Get rid of what you don’t need or want. Since anorexic is a specific type of eating disorder, we really don’t need 'eating disorder' if we have 'anorexic'.

4) Broaden terms to capture variation with * (asterisk). For example, a search for grad* will search for a variety of terms which build on that stem such as graduate, graduating, graduates, etc.

If you don't want webpages with a certain word, use the NOT or the minus sign to get rid of them. For instance, if you want to know what Josiah Carberry gets up to when he's not at Brown, type in 'Josiah Carberry -Brown'.  

The minus sign is another great way to screen out whole categories of webpages that you don't want. Maybe you want scholarly information and you know that it's unlikely that you'll find it on a commercial website. To get rid of all commercial websites, add this to the end of your search term: '-site:.com'. 

The new search term is: ‘anorexic AND 1980’s AND men -site:.com’

4) Search for phrases: If you're searching for a specific term, and you know the words should always appear in a particular sequence, then search for the entire phrase by using double quotation marks. 

The new search term is: anorexic AND 1980’s AND men AND "body dysmorphia" -site:.com

Writing a Search Statement

Keep a list of synonyms and related terms for possible keywords to be used in catalog and database searching, and keep track of which ones work best where. 

Boolean searching: combining terms for efficient searching:                  AND       OR       NOT

Alien NOT extraterrestrial
Illegal immigrants OR undocumented immigrants
Immigration AND deportation

Phrase searching: Put quotes around the exact phrase you wish to find:

 “World Health Organization

Welfare to Work AND California

Truncation: Use an * after a root word to search for variants of that word:  

Child* for child, children
Employ* for employment, employee, employer, etc.

Wildcard: Use a ? to allow for one letter difference in spelling: 

Wom?n   for woman, women, womyn