Search Like a Pro

Search Tips

These tips can help you get a good start on conducting more effective searches and cut down on the time you spend looking, too.


1. Be as precise as possible in your search. By using an exact search phrase, you're more likely to get the answer you're looking for.


2. Put the most important keywords first.


3. Get to know what Boolean searching means, and does. Boolean search terms allow you to get even more precise with your queries. The three main search terms — "AND," "NOT" and "OR" — enable you to include or exclude certain terms in your results. (Do it quicker with implied Boolean: Use the plus (+) and minus (-) signs in front of words to force their inclusion and/or exclusion in searches.)

    Example:   +meat  -potatoes

                Wondering what a Boolean is? Click here.


4. Use truncation (or stemming) and wildcards (e.g., *) to look for variations in spelling and word form.


      librar* = library, libraries, librarian, etc.
      colo*r = color and colour

Research Strategy

A research strategy (plan of attack) can help you stay focused, reduce frustration, enhance the quality of your research and save you time in the long run.


Choose and Define Your Topic

Spend some time thinking about how to formulate a reasonable topic from an area of general interest.


Get Background Information

Become familiar with the ideas, major concepts and basic vocabulary in your chosen research area. Such background knowledge places your topic in a wider context, deepens your understanding and helps you feel more comfortable with it.

  • Encyclopedias are a great place to get an overview of a topic that is new to you. Encyclopedia Britannica Online is free for all Wisconsin residence. (Accessed through BadgerLink)
  • Subject dictionaries can help define any unfamiliar words and specialized terminology when researching a new subject in specific disciplines.
  • In addition, Wikipedia can be a great starting point for generalities about a topic.


Remember: Encyclopedias are good starting points, but don’t contain ALL the information you'll need on a subject for college level research.

Gather Sources

Sources are generally categorized as being either records of what happened (primary), or reports and commentary compiled after the fact (secondary).

Primary sources include eyewitness accounts published in newspapers, thoughts and feelings recorded in diaries and letters, documented interviews or oral histories, and data collected in the census. 

Secondary sources offer commentary written about events "after the fact."  Most published information (such as standard books and articles) falls into the secondary source category.


Tips for finding sources:

  • During your research, pursue any useful footnotes, references, subject headings and keywords you find along the way. A good bibliography will suggest additional sources.
  • Search for other works written by the same author(s).
  • Use Boolean Logic to do an online search.
  • Evaluate your source material at every point during the research process. Make sure that it adequately addresses your topic.

Get Publication Information Down!

When you find useful information resources, be sure to write down, print, download or photocopy the publication information, or consider emailing the citations and articles to yourself, whatever procedures work best for you.

Make sure to record the source of the information, including the date and publication data (author, title, url, publisher, etc.).  You must have this information in order to prepare your bibliography.

(This strategy has been modified from The University of North Carolina's research guide. To get the full "scoop" click here.)