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Library Information Guide - Fort Wayne

Constructing Searches

woman on computerMost research today is conducted using online databases. Even looking for a physical book will usually require a search through an online catalog. This page gives some guidelines for creating successful searches.

Key things to remember:

  • Use key words and phrases, not sentences.
  • Think of synonyms for the key words.
  • Pay attention to spelling.
  • Use connectors.
  • Use wildcards.

Key Words and Phrases

Use Key Words and Phrases, not Sentences:

This is the most important rule of searching. Think of the words that are most important to your topic.

For example, instead of searching for:

Laws for teenagers using cellphones while driving

use the words:

laws, cell phones, teen drivers

This way, your search doesn't get hung up on the generic words like for, using, and while.


Think of Synonyms for the Key Words:

It can be useful to think of a couple of synonyms for key words. Using the example above, you could use “mobile phones” as well as “cell phones.”

Slang is often a problem in searches. For example, “car” will get different results than “automobile” in many databases.

Having trouble thinking of some synonyms? You can always try a thesaurus:


Another common problem is misspelled words. If you are not getting any results for a search with a common keyword, you should check the spelling.

The easiest way to do this is to go to Google and do a search on the word the way you think it should be spelled. Google will give you a “We think you mean…” message.

Here are some other ways to check your spelling: