Getting Started with Academic Research: Advanced Search Techniques

Welcome to the University Libraries at Virginia Tech! The libraries are a hub of research and learning for Virginia Tech, and we are here to help you! Explore the pages of this guide for guidance on beginning your academic research.

Advanced Search Strategies

Brainstorming keywords and creating sophisticated search statements is a great way to get relevant search results. But there are some other techniques you can use to create even better search statements. 

Truncation: Truncation can simplify your search and even help to catch keywords you may not have thought of. Truncation shortens a word to its root to catch variants of the root word.  Let's say that your search statement included the word child. Searching for child* would bring back results including child, children, child's, children's, childlike, and childless. While not all of these would be relevant to your search, the majority of them are. Truncation can be used only at the end of a word. Some terms are more appropriate choices for truncation than others. For example, searching for vet* would bring back vet, vet's, veteran, veteran's, veterans, veterinarian, veterinarians, veterinarian's, and veterinarians'. If you were interested only in research on veterans, veteran* would be a better truncation than vet*. 

Wildcard: Sometimes you want variations of a word, but the variations happen within a word and not at the end. In this case, you'll want to use a wildcard, usually a question mark, to indicate that variations of a single letter are acceptable. For instance, searching for wom?n will bring back results with both woman and women. The wildcard is useful when the singular and plural forms of a word are changed within the word, or when different English variants may have slightly different spellings. 

Quotation marks: When your search includes a phrase, pay attention to your results list to see if the database is finding results with the phrase only, or if it is separating the parts of the phrase and returning results that don't seem relevant to your topic. For instance, you may be interested in sensory processing disorder, but in your results, you notice than in addition to articles on sensory processing disorder, you've got results on other disorders or sensory conditions because the database is searching for your terms individually as well as together. To avoid this problem, you can put quotation marks around the phrase you're searching for in order to find only those terms together in that order: "sensory processing disorder."