Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course


Download this course

Share this free course

Teaching the First World War
Teaching the First World War

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

2 Building online searches

Most of what follows in this section on more efficient searching will be applicable to all these different types of collection, even if their interfaces and layouts are dissimilar. Some of these suggestions will doubtless already be familiar to you, but we hope that you’ll gain confidence by developing and employing your search skills. As most exam boards have an NEA requirement that students use scholarly literature that they have found for themselves, it is probably worthwhile spending some time in passing on good techniques to them.

Boolean searching

Boolean searching is an advanced search technique: it allows you to specify how your search terms are combined and makes your searching more precise. Basic searches of key terms in most databases will often generate unmanageable lists of results. Even adding quote marks around a phrase, though it can help, may still offer up too many hits, so we recommend that you use the advanced search function of your chosen database and add in Boolean operators wherever you can. Let’s look at different options:

OR: ‘OR’ will broaden your search and return all documents that contain either one or other of two search terms.

AND: ‘AND’ will narrow the search to include only results that include all your search terms.

NOT: ‘NOT’ includes results only where the first term is present; if the second term is present then results will be excluded.

It is possible to link together terms in subqueries too, by using brackets. So, for example, (psychology OR psychiatry) AND “first world war” should give you results featuring the phrase in quote marks where one or other of the words psychology or psychiatry is also present. If you are using OR as your Boolean operator, it is advisable to use brackets if you don’t want your search to go wrong.

You can also replace a letter in a search phrase with a ‘?’ if you want variants on a term or put an asterisk at the end of a word if you would like to try variations on its ending.

For example, “conscrip*” should return documents containing conscript, conscripted or conscription.

Did you know?

Many search tools, including Google, will automatically ‘AND’ your terms together unless you specify otherwise using advanced search options.

You can use these extra variables to put together search strings in most databases that you might encounter, so it’s worth taking a moment to think about your search question, and how that might translate into precise terms that you might use. Terms must be grouped as phrases to return meaningful results. In the next section, you will get an opportunity to try out some searches using Google Scholar.