Written by Patricia Sipes

      Organizing your own research is really up to you, everyone has their own style and way of doing it. I keep a spreadsheet open and fill out blocks to describe what sort of research I found, where I found it, and what keywords I used.  I can tell you from experience that your life is so much easier if you do keep track of not only where you looked for information, but what terms you used and how many results there were for each term.

     Additionally, most databases and online search engines allow you to use special keystrokes to find certain information.  Most databases have a search help option somewhere to explain them.  

Some of the most commonly used ones are:

  • "search term(s)"
    • Quotation marks(" ") tell the engines to search the item as a whole.  If there are spaces between words and no quotation marks, the engines search for them in any order with the possibility of words in between, or entirely disregarding parts of the phrase if it feels they are unnecessary.
    • This is particularly helpful when searching author names and titles.
  • sea*
    • Asterisks (*) tell the engines to look for words that start with what preceeds them.  For this example the search results could be search, seas, seal, seals, seat, seats, seam, seams, etc.
    • This is particularly helpful when dealing with words that have multiple endings or end spellings (such as words that are spelled differently in American and British English) such as theat* would return theatre and theater, and act* would return actor and actress.
  • te?m
    • Question marks (?) tell the engines to look for one letter that completes the word where it is placed.  In the example, results would be term, team, teem, etc.
    • This is particularly helpful for terms like "woman" and "women." 
  • +search
    • Plus signs (+) are often used to signify extra inclusion added to an already existing term.
  • -search
    • Minus signs (-) are used to exclude terms.  
    • For example, if you were searching for "slavery" but did not want to look at American slavery results you could use slavery -Americ*

NOTE: Google IGNORES most symbols and does not follow the question mark or asterisks formula.  They also suggest brackets rather than quotation marks.