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SWITCH Libraries' Information Literacy Tutorial: Unit 2
How Do I Search?

This tutorial is for use by the community of library users within the SWITCH Library Consortium.

Brainstorm Search Terms

No matter where you search for information, you need to identify terms or keywords that represent your topic. For example, suppose this is your research question:

"Does receiving a FLU SHOT improve the health of OLDER ADULTS?"

It's best to think of related terms or synonyms that represent the concepts in your question. Searching with synonyms is a great way to improve your results when searching for information. The following table lists some synonyms to our key concepts. Can you think of any others?

Brainstorming chart

Here's a database search tip. After performing a search, look for the subject terms assigned to the items in your list of results. Subject terms (a.k.a. "the pearls") are valuable synonyms for tweaking a search.

Boolean Operators

Finding Keywords

A keyword search is the broadest type of search because it searches all fields of a record. This means it searches anywhere in an information source for the terms you entered. Because online resources like catalogs, databases, and search engines look for search terms anywhere, sometimes the retrieved results are out of context or irrelevant. The tips in the "Finding Keywords" video will help you understand how to identify and use keywords in your searches.

Words to Skip When Searching

"Stop words" are those small, frequently-used words that are so common they are meaningless in a search. It's best to not use such words because search engines typically ignore them.

Stop Word Examples:

Stop word graphic

Test Your Knowledge

Quiz image

Please review the information on this page before attempting the quiz. After completing the quiz, a score will be sent to your email address. Click here to take the How do I Search? Quiz.

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Questions? Please contact your home library and ask to speak with a librarian.


"Using Boolean Operators", California State University, San Bernardino, John M. Pfau Library:

"Finding Keywords", Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System, UWM Libraries: