Choose Your Search Terms Wisely

By Finding Dulcinea

A search engine is not human, and cannot read your mind. All it has to work with are the words that you enter into it, so choosing those words wisely is important.

You can't just type into Google the first thing that comes to your mind. You must spend some time planning your search.

Studies show that when students rush into a research project without a plan, they end up looking at the same sources over and over again, and finally pick ones that aren’t helpful.

So plan to succeed.  Rewrite the assignment in your own words. Then, make a list of key search terms, and create a series of terms that you can search in combinations of two, three or more.  When you find a good source, look at the most important words in it, and add them to your keyword list.  Try a series of keyword combinations.

Also, keep track of the sources you review. This will help you avoid repeatedly visiting the same bad sources, and will also help properly cite every source you use. 
If your search results still aren’t exactly what you want, try these tips.

Not getting enough (or any) search results?  Try a more general term. For example, did you copy an entire sentence in the search box? Then try using just the key words you want to find.  Or, if you searched for a very specific location along with your search, try removing that location and see what you find.

Getting too many search results?  Do just the opposite of the tip above.  Add more specifics to your search such as a time period or date, a location, or a name of a key player in the event you are researching.

Also – try using synonyms, abbreviations, or alternate spellings if you still can’t find what you want.