Improve your search

Searching for one keyword can mean your results are too vague and broad.

As soon as you start searching with more than one keyword, it’s a good idea to either switch to Advanced Search options in your library databases or search engine, or to use some boolean operators. By doing this, your search will be more focussed and you will have fewer, but more accurate results to work with.

Remember there is no such thing as the perfect search!

University of Exeter students might like to use their Search Techniques LibGuide


Just try some of these suggestions and see what works for you and your topic.

Online Research: Tips for Effective Search Strategies

Remote video URL


Boolean Searching

What is it?

Boolean operators are simple linking words.

These are: AND / OR / NOT

AND Narrows your search

crime AND poverty

Your results are limited to those that contain all your keywords

OR Broadens your search

college OR university

Your results will have either or both of your search terms

NOT Eliminates search terms

cloning  NOT sheep

Your results will be narrower because you have eliminated certain words


Truncation & wildcards

Library databases can be fussy about the way you spell words, so if you aren’t sure of spelling you or if you know there are multiple variations of your search term, then use wildcards or truncation to cover all possibilities.

Truncation: expands your search to include different endings of a word

Example: theor* = theorist / theory / theory / theoretical / theorise

Test it by searching for theor* [Falmouth] theor* [Exeter]


Wildcards: allows you to search for different spellings of a word by filling in the blank in the middle

Example: gr?y = grey / gray

It’s a good idea to check the Help options in databases as the type of wild card symbol used can vary!