Studying Effectively

Search skills

Literature searching

Literature searching is a structured and organised way of finding information on a topic, most often using online resources such as NUsearch [UK, China, Malaysia] and subject databases.

Before you start searching, be clear about what it is you're looking for. Think about keywords you could use and be prepared to refine or broaden your search depending on your results. You may have to try your search more than once before you find what you're looking for.

Developing your search skills will enable you to get the most out of online searching and can help you to:

  • Build a focused search to find relevant information on a topic
  • Explore different aspects of a topic
  • Search more efficiently and save time

Planning your search and identifying keywords

It's easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of information available. Planning your search in advance will enable you to quickly and easily find relevant information and save you time in the long run.

The first step is to think about your topic and identify keywords to describe it. Keywords allow you to be specific about the topic you're interested in and to modify your search to find more relevant results.

The following video Search skills: thinking about keywords shows you how to break down your topic into key concepts and consider alternative keywords and spellings.

 Alternatively, go to Thinking about keywords (pdf).

Search techniques

You can apply a range of search techniques to help you find relevant information online. Use the following tutorials for some hints and tips.


Truncation enables you to search for a word stem along with all of its different endings in one go. Find out more in the activity below:

Search Skills: Using Truncation 


 Phrase searching

Phrase searching is useful if you want to search for two or more words adjacent to each other in a specified order. Find out more in the activity below:

Search Skills: Using Phrase Searching



Wildcards are useful when you're searching for a keyword that has an alternative spelling, e.g. a UK and US variation. Find out more in the activity below:

Search Skills: Using Wildcards


Proximity operators

Proximity operators enable you to search for one keyword within a specified number of words of another keyword in any order. Find out more in the activity below:

Search Skills: Using Proximity Operators


Combining searches

Having identified your keywords and thought about the search techniques you could use, the next step is to consider how to combine your keywords into a structured search.

Using Boolean operators and parentheses (brackets)

Boolean operators and parentheses (brackets) enable you to narrow or broaden your search by combining your keywords. When used correctly they can help you focus your search and save you time. Find out more in the activity below:

Search Skills: Using Boolean Operators and Parentheses


Applying search skills to different resources

Planning your search in advance, thinking about keywords and considering which search techniques to use are applicable to most types of literature search. However, you may need to use additional search skills when searching subject databases, searching the web or doing a citation search.


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