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Conducting web-based research: Search Strategy

Quick tips

Search engines allow you to:

Depending on the number of results an initial search produces, you may want to narrow or widen your search:

Narrow results by:

  • add or change search terms
  • use specific spellings
  • use phrases
  • use AND or NOT to link search terms

Widen results by:

  • use alternative search terms
  • use individual words instead of phrases
  • account fo different spellings
  • use OR to link search terms



Constructing a search strategy

Search design and execution

The principles of research based on any resource also apply to web-based research:

  • Decide on the keywords that you need to search for.
  • Be specific - do not search on very general topics.
  • Use more than one keyword if possible, so that you can narrow down your search. Join them with AND, OR, NOT
  • Beware that a few search engines automatically link words with OR rather than AND so if a document contains only one of the words you have entered it will still be picked up
  • Think of synonyms for your topics and join them with OR e.g. bedsores or pressure sores
  • Think of different (especially American) spellings for your keywords e.g. color/colour
  • A few search engines accept truncation. * is the usual symbol. For example medic* will search for medicine, medicines, medical, medics, medicinal, medication, medicament, medicate etc. simultaneously
  • To search on an exact phrase or a name, put it into double quotes e.g. "Hull Truck Theatre".

For further information, please refer to:


Be aware of the different features of different search engines:

  • Use Help screens to explore specific features.
  • As a general rule place your main subject first in your search statement as some search engines use the first word to determine relevance ranking
  • Some search engines are sensitive to upper and lower case when searching for names
  • With some search engines you can search in the title of documents, rather than anywhere in a document. This can make for more precise searching
  • Experiment with the advanced search options that some engines have which allow more complex searches.