How to Frame Terms for Effective Searching
We’ve shown you search engines to try and refine your search, now we’ll give you tips on
how to manipulate your search terms to return information most specific to your particular
Use specific words and phrases
The first step is to identify words and phrases which should appear in documents related to
your topic. Combining these specific words and phrases can go a long way to narrowing your
search. For example, let’s say you are searching for the goalie who plays for the Toronto
Using goalie would return information on goalies from every sport and era.
Using Toronto Maple Leafs would return information on the team.
By combining goalie plus Toronto Maple Leafs plus 2007 will return results that include
statistics on all three Maple Leaf goalies Andrew Raycroft, Jean-Sebastien Aubin and Mikael
The Plus of “+”
Combining words and phrases that you want to see appear together is done with the use of
the symbol plus symbol +.
By putting phrases in quotation marks, this means you want to search only for this exact
To improve our search above, the search terms would be:
goalie + “Toronto Maple Leafs” + 2007
This tells the search engine to only look for information that contains this specific information.
The Benefits of Booleans
Another way to refine your search is to use Boolean operators – AND, AND NOT, and OR.
Most search engines understand Boolean operators and the choice of these words can focus
the results returned.
For example, let’ say you want a sandwich with ham and cheese, but not tomatoes. Using
Boolean operators, it would look like: sandwich AND ham AND cheese AND NOT tomatoes.
The search engine would return results on sandwiches that include ham and cheese, but
exclude resources that list tomatoes.
Perhaps you don’t care if your sandwich is made with ham or turkey, but you wanted cheese
and definitely not tomatoes. The Boolean search would look like: sandwich AND ham OR
turkey AND cheese AND NOT tomatoes. This will expand your search, but along very narrow
You’ve Got Results, Now What?
You’ve narrowed your topic, you developed effective phrasing and are searching the web.
Even with your perfected search techniques, you are still receiving hundreds and perhaps
thousands of results. You could waste precious time by trying to go through each of the
results. Read down the list of results to try to determine their origins. Is it a journal, personal
web site, or news site? Sometimes it is difficult to tell, but once you begin going to web sites
that are duds, you will begin to recognize which results are appropriate and which aren’t.
If you find that you are going to the fifth or sixth screen of results to find something that is
actually related to your topic, it is time to refine your search and try again. A rule of thumb is,
if the right information doesn’t show up within the first two screens, then it is time to stop and
try another search sequence. It becomes easy to get distracted, buy try and stay focused and
concentrate your efforts on getting the exact results you need.