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Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering (IMSE)

Resources for research in IMSE.

Search Tips & Tricks

Search better

Computers cannot understand language so it's important to give them simple and logical instructions.

There are four basic techniques you can use to improve your search skills: keyword searching, Boolean expressions, phrase searching, and truncation.

All of these techniques can be combined together to create precise or broad searches.

Google's Search Tips & Tricks (below) is a very useful resource for learning the basics of searching but please be aware that not all of these will work the same way on every databases.

Search Tips

Google is a very helpful tool - but sometimes it's not the right tool for the job.

Databases and websites devoted to one topic offer special tools and features that general services like Google cannot.  For example, IMDB offers much more information on movies than Google.

Google only covers the "open web," but access to most scholarly articles is not free and not all articles are online.

If you rely only on Google for academic research you will miss relevant and important research in your field that is not available on the "open web" or that hasn't been digitized yet. In much the same way that Netflix movies do not show up in Google, scholarly indexes and databases available from the library require a subscription to cover these important resources.

Google was built to search web pages, not journal articles, book chapters, conference proceedings, theses, etc.

Library databases offer special search features which help you narrow or broaden your searches of scholarly literature. Example features not found in Google: article keywords and subjects, author affiliation, year published, etc.

Boolean searching is a way to tell the computer to do certain things with keywords that you are using in your search. 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 in 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 in sentences or sentence fragments (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 indexes 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.

You can combine multiple search techniques and if you have a complex search you can use parentheses to group different sets of instructions:

Example searches:

(cat or cats) AND "house train*"

This search will retrieve results that contain the phrases "house training" or "house train" and EITHER cat or cats. If you truncate cat* you would get way too many irrelevant results including catatonic, catalyst, etc. so only train is truncated.

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Your Librarian

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Eric Schares
150 Parks Library
Ames, IA 50010-2140
515 294-2117

Additional Office Hours

I also hold embedded office hours in 3010 Black, Wednesdays from 3-5pm.