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M E 415: Mechanical Systems Design

Guide to using library resources for students in ME 415.

Tips & strategies for successful library research

Make use of available resources

The ISU Library provides access to a wealth of high quality information resources. From the books in our stacks to the online databases we subscribe to, you have access to more information as a student at Iowa State than you may ever have again. Make the most of it!

Additionally, each subject area at ISU has its own liaison librarian. Liaison librarians are experts in using the information resources in a given field or discipline. If you need help navigating all of the resources at your disposal or developing your search strategy, don't hesitate to contact your librarian!

Plan ahead

It takes time to successfully complete a thorough search for information, so plan ahead! Set some time aside for searching the scholarly and trade literature, looking for patents and standards for similar products, and for reviewing the articles, patents, books, and other relevant resources you do find.

Additionally, the resources you need may not be immediately available at the ISU Library. We can borrow just about anything you need from another library, at no cost to you, but the interlibrary loan process takes time. Articles often arrive within hours or a couple of days, but physical items can take up to 7 business days.

Search better

Computers typically cannot understand natural language so it's important to give them simple and logical instructions. This page explores some strategies for improving your searches: Boolean expressions, keyword searching, phrase searching, truncation. You'll also find some information here on using common features of article databases: advanced search and the thesaurus. All of these techniques can be combined to create better searches.

Please be aware that not all of these will work the same way for every database.

Boolean searching

Boolean searching lets you tell the computer to do certain things with keywords that you are using in your search. Searching this way works in Quick Search as well as in the various databases where you'll find articles, papers, etc.. If you want more help try out the tutorials linked below.

AND (find all)

When you combine keywords with AND you will only get results which contain all of the keywords joined by AND.
Use AND when you need to narrow a search to contain ALL keywords.

Example search: cat AND dog
Search results will only contain items which contain the words "cat" and "dog"; search results will exclude items only on cats or only on dogs.

OR (find either)

When you combine terms with OR you will get results which contain any of the terms joined by OR.
Use when you want to broaden a search to search for related terms or variant spellings (example: "climate OR climatic OR climates")

Example searchcat OR dog
Search results will contain items which contain only "cat", only "dog", and items which contain both both "cat" and "dog."

NOT (ignore)

NOT is used to specify keywords to ignore. Some search engines and databases don't support NOT (Google uses "-" instead for example). NOT can be useful when you are searching for a word with multiple meanings or need to exclude certain topics from a search.

Example searchgang violence NOT motorcycle
These search results should only cover non-motorcycle related gang violence.


Most of us are familiar with keyword searches: you enter words and you get back results which contain those words. It's important to choose your keywords carefully otherwise you will get no results or the wrong results. Use these basic tips to improve your keywords:

  • Choose the most basic form of a word to use in a search (i.e. use "pizza" instead of "pizzeria")
  • Avoid contractions, uppercase letters, and punctuation.
  • Do not search for sentences or parts of sentences (unless it's a phrase).

Phrase searching

To search for a phrase or multi-word concept place the words or phrase in quotation marks. The quotation marks tell the search to find all of these words together in this order.

Example searches:
"To be or not to be" AND shakespeare
"new york city"
"unmanned aerial vehicle"


Truncation is a way to place "wildcard" characters in your searches. This is useful when trying to include word variations in your searches.You need to be careful where you truncate a word - if you truncate too early you may end up with unexpected results that contain unrelated words with the same spellings. The asterisk(*) is the symbol most databases use for truncation.

Example good truncation search: bacteri*
This search will return results for bacteria and bacterium. This is a good use of truncation.


Example bad truncation search: creat*
This search will return results for: creaturecreationcreatecreatingcreator, etc. This is not a good use of truncation.

Advanced Search

When searching, look for the Advanced Search option. Often this will give you more control over your search results without the need to filter or refine your results after the fact. For example, with the advanced search you can often choose to search just scholarly journals or conference proceedings.


If you can't find anything relating to your topic in a database or index that you think should have the information you're looking for, look for the Thesaurus. The thesaurus is a list of terms that function like tags and are used to indicate what a particular paper is about. Often you will find that the official thesaurus uses different terms than the ones you may have been using to search. By using the official terms from the thesaurus, you are communicating with the computer in its own language (so to speak) and it will have a better chance of giving you relevant search results.

Finding the thesaurus varies depending on which database or index you're using, and not all of them will have a thesaurus. Look for a link near the top or near the search box that says "Thesaurus", or check the Advanced Search page. These are the places you'll most often find a thesaurus link.

Erin Thomas's picture
Erin Thomas
150 Parks Library
Iowa State University
515 294-9886