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Criminology: Finding and using library resources: 3. How do I search effectively?

Online tutorial introducing you to the skills and techniques needed for effective library research

How to Search Activities

Test your understanding of online search skills and tips

Click below to launch the Search Techniques quiz

Want to know more about evaluation?

Click to try our online tutorial on Evaluating Information Sources.

To get the best results from online search services you need to input effective searches. 

The databases and internet search engines are not intelligent and will not understand your search topic.  

You need to devise and enter your search in a way that the databases can process to retrieve relevant search results for you.

Spend some time planning out your keywords and deciding which search tips and techniques you will use.

You will also need to evaluate your search results for relevance and quality

Explore the guidance below and then use the activities to test your knowledge and build your evaluation skills.

Before you start searching, spend some time defining your research topic. Ask yourself, what is it that you want to find out? What search terms or keywords will find this information?

Use whatever technique works best for you - e.g. words lists or mind maps etc. can help you think around your topic and identify all possible search concepts and terms. 

Take a look at the short video to help you begin:

For more guidance, see the Search Techniques guide.

It is possible to use a number of different keywords in a single search, by using operators.

The three most commonly used operators are ANDORNOT.   These are known as Boolean operators. 

They can be used to broaden or narrow a search and to exclude unwanted concepts.

Watch the video to find out how to use these operators.

For more guidance, see the Search Techniques guide.


You can use search tips to improve your searching. By applying these techniques, you can increase or reduce the number of search results, making it easier to access relevant materials.

There are lots of tips and techniques and full detail is on the  Search tips guide.

Here are three top tips that can improve your searching

1. Truncation is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings.

To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end.

The database will return results that include any ending of that root word.

The asterisk * symbol is most commonly used for truncation. However, check out the help screens as  !, ?, or # may also be used.

For example:

entrepreneur* will find entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial etc.

child* will find child, childrenchildlikechildhood etc.

Use it with care to avoid finding too many alternatives.

2. Wildcards are similar to truncation but they are used to substitute for a single letter or no letter in a word.

They are useful for irregular plurals and for British/American English spellings.

They broaden your search by including variant word spellings.

The question mark symbol is most commonly used. However, check out the help screens as  ! , *, or # may also be used. 

For example:

wom?n will find woman and women

optimi?ation will find optimisation and optimization

model?ing will find modeling and modelling

3. Phrase searching is the most limiting technique as it is used to specify that your terms must appear next to each other, and in the order you specify.

Phrase searching is commonly achieved by surrounding your phrase with quotation marks.

Always check the Database Help screens, as some databases may use different symbols.

Phrase searching examples:

"World Trade Organization"

"influencer marketing"


Build in a quality control check to assess your research materials. You should always review your search results and assess them in terms of:

1. Relevance to your research topic. Refine your results to enhance relevance or try different search terms, search tips, databases

2.  Academic quality.  Not all information is equal! The ability to evaluate the academic quality of the information you find is a core aspect of scholarly research. 

Critical evaluation is especially important with non academic sources (e.g. news sources) or when searching online using services such as Google.

Whilst textbooks and academic journals, discoverable by acvdemic research databases, will likely have gone through a rigorous review and editing process, there are no such guarantees for much of the information you can find online.

How to evaluate

The CRAAP test provides simple criteria for judging the academic quality of information. By asking some questions of the sources you encounter, you can successfully boost the quality of information you use in your work.

The five main CRAAP test criteria are:

  • Currency
  • Relevancy
  • Accuracy
  • Authority
  • Purpose

In an age of misinformation and fake-news, the ability to  evaluate the quality of the information we find has never been more important. 

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