Skip to Main Content

Search Technique Guide

A guide that goes over various techniques to improve your search results in various search engines and databases.

Keyword searching is what most people are familiar with. It is what most people do when they search for something in Google or Duck Duck Go or even a library catalog. Keyword searching is basically entering a few important terms into the search box and allowing the search engine to find all items that contain all of those terms. In a general search engine this will result in millions of results. The problem is that the most relevant item to you may be number 2,800,000 and most people don’t look a past the first 2 pages of results. In the library catalog and its search engine, we use the keywords to get to the most relevant items, but then we will search for similar items using “subject searching”. It is far more precise and produces more relevant items, but I will discuss it in the subject search techniques page.

Author or title searching is fairly straight forward, you enter the name of the author and some bits of the title in the search box and allow the search engine to do its magic. Unless you are using the advanced search feature of a search engine, this really is just a keyword search and the search engine is just looking for a match to all parts of your query that is the name and title of the book. What most people don’t realize is that in the library catalog the author’s name should appear in the reverse order, that is, last name first, followed by a comma and one space and then the first name. So, it should be Shakespeare, William, not William Shakespeare. The computer will find it, but it might also include people named William that wrote about Shakespeare and such.

Phrase searching is one step better than just keyword searching. This is when you have an exact phrase that you are looking for. It may just be two words, but they need to appear in the right order. To perform a phrase search, you just put the entire query into quotation marks. This will force the search engine to find that exact match. So, if you word your search wrong you will get bad results. There are problems with phrase searching in that people often have variations of a quote or got the lyrics wrong to a song. It happens. When the results are wrong, I suggest trying the phrase as a keyword search, with all the words in the right order and hopefully the right results will appear.