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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Information Literacy Tutorial: Searching Strategies

Learn how to find, evaluate, and manage sources with this guide.

Better Searching

This page focuses on different methods that are useful when searching the web and databases.

Evaluating Web Results

Before using a website as a source, ask yourself:

  • Who publishes the site? Are they biased?
  • Was the site recently updated?
  • What is its domain? (.org, .edu, or .gov are preferable) 
  • Is this the right source for the assignment?

For more information on finding appropriate web sources, see our guide on Using Refereed/Peer-Reviewed Research.

Searching the Web

1. Use AND to narrow your search.

Using AND reduces the amount of results you get. It is like asking everyone in a room with brown hair and blue eyes to stand up. This will let only those with BOTH traits to stand up.  

Venn diagram of AND OR example

          Ex: Agriculture AND nutrition brings up results related to both terms.

2. Use OR to broaden your search and combine terms with parentheses.

        If you ask for everyone with brown hair and blue eyes to stand up, you will have people with EITHER trait, giving you more results.

Ex: Agriculture OR nutrition brings up results related to either term.
If you wanted to search for agriculture, but also either nutrition or practices, you can use parentheses: agriculture (nutrition OR practices).

3. Use a minus sign (-) to exclude words.

         If your search results involve a subtopic you do not need you can put a minus sign in front of the word you do not want in your results.

Ex: Kinesiology -sports

4. Use quotation marks to search for a specific phrase.

Ex: If you search for "University of Illinois" it will give you results with those words in that specific order.

5. Use an asterisk as a placeholder.

Using an asterisk lets you search even when you are unsure of part of a word or phrase in your search. It is also useful when searching for different endings on words.

Ex: Travel* will give you results not only for travel, but also for travels, traveled, and traveling. You could also search for missing words in a phrase: a bird in the hand is * two in the bush.


For more information, see our guides on:

Searching Databases

Searching databases is similar to searching the web, but they give you more search options.

Subject Terms

You can find subject terms either by finding an article you like and looking through its description for related subject terms, or by going to the database's list of subject terms. You can often put a subject term into the search box, but be aware that you should check for that database's specific terms -- they vary between databases.

Ex: If you are looking for travel in Vermont, you should check to see if there is a related subject, such as vacation, tourism, or travel.

Other options to narrow your search

  • Add keywords
  • Search using an article or book you like: in some databases, when you select an article it will offer the option of searching for "similar texts" or for works which cite the article.
  • Use a database's advanced search to specify a date, author, or subject