Plan your search

Think about the keywords from your assignment. Consider possible synonyms, alternative spellings, plurals and other endings.

What sort of information are you looking for?
  • Scholarly or popular information?
  • Electronic versions of books, newspapers, journals or other resources?
  • Simple facts or complex discussion?
How much information do you need?
  • A simple answer from one site?
  • A range of material from several different sites?

Refine your search

If you have too many hits:
  • Add other terms or concepts
  • Search a narrower concept (For example if you started with the term education, try "special education")
  • Adjust the date range
  • Go to the Subject Portals for subject specific databases
If you have too few hits:
  • Check your spelling
  • Try using a broader term or concept e.g. rather than fractions use mathematics
  • Broaden the search by using synonyms
  • Go to the Subject Portals for subject specific databases.
  • For New Zealand information try Index New Zealand (INNZ)
  • Think about the source. Not all information you want is available online.

Remember, you can always ask a Librarian. We're here to help.

Make use of Library Search

Library Search enables users to search the Library’s online and print resources through a single search box. The initial search can be limited to just books or just journal articles. Results from the search can be refined further by choosing filters located on the right hand side of the results page. The options include full text online or peer-reviewed articles, a specific resource type, subject, date or Library location. See the Library Search Guide and Library Search Tips.

Use Boolean Searching

Boolean operators (AND OR NOT) can be useful when using Advanced Search of Library Search, and when searching specific databases or the internet. They help to focus and refine a search by broadening (increasing) and narrowing (decreasing) search results.

These operators can be useful when searching Library Search, databases and the internet.

AND narrows a search because ALL TERMS must be present in each hit.

If you enter the following search:

Education AND Waikato

Each hit should contain both the word 'education' and the word 'Waikato'

Adding 'Waikato' to 'education' is a good strategy to use when you only need to limit your search to information about education in the Waikato. Education is such a broad subject that a search with just 'education' as the search word is likely to result in hundreds of hits, most of which will be irrelevant if you are only looking for Waikato related information.

OR widens a search because each hit will contain either 'education' or it will contain 'Waikato'. These terms may or may not appear in the same record. If you enter the following search:

Education OR Waikato

All the records containing the word 'education' will be retrieved, as well as all the records containing the term 'Waikato'

The best way to use OR is when you want to make sure that you cover synonyms. Have a look at the following two examples:

education OR teaching OR schooling

bike OR cycle OR bicycle

NOT narrows a search by excluding records containing specified words. If you enter the following search:

Education NOT Waikato

The word 'education' must be present in the records retrieved, but the word 'Waikato' must not be present. Use the NOT operator carefully as you may exclude relevant material.

Using multiple operators

When using multiple operators, order of precendence rules normally apply. The order is as follows:

  1. Parentheses ( )
  2. AND and NOT
  3. OR

If no parentheses are present, the left-to-right rule will apply.

Note: in many cases, for right-to-left languages (such as Hebrew), the precedence is right-to-left.

Grouping terms with parentheses

When using more than one operator, it is strongly recommended to use parentheses to clarify precedence. Consider this example:

Shakespeare AND (tragedy OR sonnet)

A search done with the above query would return records containing both the term 'Shakespeare' and either 'tragedy' or 'sonnet'. If you omit the parentheses, precedence rules would a apply and the search would be executed right-to-left, e.g.

(Shakespeare AND tragedy) OR sonnet

Results would either contain both 'Shakespeare' and 'tradegy' together, or 'sonnet' on it's own.

Use Truncation and Phrasing

Use truncation to find variant endings. The most usual symbol is * e.g. math* will find maths, mathematics or mathematical.

You can search for phrases by using brackets or quotation marks, e.g. "University of Waikato" or "social relationships" will find results containing the whole phrase, not just individual words.

Make use of the Help pages when searching in specific databases.

Analyse your information

Whatever tool you use to find your information, ultimately it is the quality of the information that is important, rather than how much information you retrieve. Learn to analyse your information. See How to Evaluate a Website for tips.