Successful Online Searching


The key is knowing how to use keywords.

Every database is different. Every Internet search engine is different. Electronic searching is so new that everyone creating databases and search engines thinks their way is best. The one thing all these resources seem to have in common is that they "understand" keywords.

Taking some time to think about your topic and ways to describe it can help you to quickly and easily find the online information you need.

When you enter good keywords into the search box of any database or search engine, you should get relevant results. Of course, you'll still need to evaluate the information, especially if it's from the Web, where anyone can "publish."

Think about what you need to find. Write it down on a piece of paper, then select the most important words. For example...

How do Americans feel about gambling?

It's easy, and it's tempting, but you really don't want to type all that into the search box.
Databases and search engines will be "confused" by words like how, do, about, of, a, an, the, etc.
Eliminate them. They can't be keywords. But these sure can be...

Americans gambling feel

Now, think of some other words people might use to describe the same concepts.
You might want to check a thesaurus to find synonyms for the words...or read an encyclopedia article on the topic to see which words they use. Also, think about singular and plural forms of words, as well as broader, more general terms. Here's what happens...

Americans gambling feel
America gaming opinion
American casinos opinions
United States lotteries views

Using the keywords you've come up with, and others you might discover as you do your research, you'll be able to create several different searches. If one doesn't work out, try substituting another keyword from your list.

Combining Keywords

Often, if you type in just one word (like "gambling") you'll get too many results. Many articles or Web pages mention that word. The way to zero-in on what you need is to add another search term. Do that in most databases by using the word and. And tells the search mechanism that both search terms must be found in every result it finds for you. So, using our example above, we'll want to type this into the search box...

Americans and gambling and opinions

The Google search engine assumes and when you enter more than one word, so all you'd enter in Google's search box to do the same search as above is...

Americans gambling opinions

The JSCC Online Library Catalog, which you use to find books, audio and videotapes, is different, too. Click here to learn how to search it.

Getting Help

If you're not sure how to enter search terms in a particular database or search engine ask at the Reference Desk, fill out our online Ask Us Questions form, or just give us a call: 731-424-3520 ext. 313, or 1-800-355-JSCC ext. 313.

Want to learn more about doing research in the online world? Try the TILT Information Literacy Tutorial.