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Newcastle University

University Library

Subject support guide

Your subject-specific guide to using library resources.

Library Search

Finding Information

Once you’ve mastered the basics, you can move on to more advanced search techniques. These can make a big difference to the quantity and quality of your search results...

Advanced searching

Want to exclude a keyword from your search results? Want to search for an exact phrase? Want to search for words with lots of different endings? Understanding how to perform sophisticated searches of online information will greatly increase your chances of finding what you want. Read on to find out more...

Phrase searching

Enclosing two or more keywords in quotation marks will return results containing that exact phrase only. 

"Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"

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For example, searching for “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” will search for results containing that exact phrase only. If a result contains the words Charliechocolate and factory, but not in that precise order, it will be eliminated. Great if you're only looking for information about Roald Dahl's book!

Combining keywords

Boolean operators are terms you can use to give you more control over your search. The most popular operators are AND, OR and NOT. Here’s what they do for you:


If you want to find information that must contain two different keywords (or phrases), place a capitalised AND operator between them. Your search engine or subject database will only find information that features both, narrowing your results.

Facebook AND Twitter

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The AND operator is usually implied in searches, so isn’t always necessary. However, if you find a keywords get ignored in order to increase your search results, you can make sure they're included by using AND.


If you want to find information that contains either of two keywords (or phrases), use the OR operator. This is particularly useful when searching for terms that have synonyms. Your search engine or subject database will find information that features either word or phrase, significantly broadening your results.

 "social media" OR "social networks"

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If you want to exclude a keyword, use the NOT operator. This is particularly useful when searching for information where you do not want results containing a keyword. However, you should use it carefully, as it may mean you end up eliminating relevant results.

"social media" NOT Facebook

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Some search engines and subject databases offer variations of the Boolean operators AND and NOT. For example, placing a + symbol immediately before a keyword (with no space) requires that word. Placing a symbol before a keyword excludes that word.


If you are searching for information on banking, you could use that as your keyword. However, if your results are limited, and you want to broaden your search, use the root part of the word (bank) and abbreviate it with an asterisk (bank*). Your chosen database will return links to results matching bank, banks, banking, bankers, bankrupt, and so on. Try another example...


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Each database works differently so you need to adapt your search strategy for each database. Not every advanced search technique is supported by every resource, and the ways in which the techniques are used can differ. If in doubt, check out the help available for each resource.


If there are several ways of spelling a term, you can use a question mark, ?, in place of one or more characters. For example, colo?r will return results containing both colour and color. Try it...


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Filtering results

Most search engines and subject databases also allow you can also limit results by date, language, and type of publication. You can also limit by field, restricting a search to the data associated with a resource – title, subject, keywords – rather than the contents of the resource itself. By doing this, you’ll only retrieve highly relevant results. And you can enable these filters before or after your search – whatever works best for you.

Controlled vocabularies

Depending on your field, you may find that your subject databases use a controlled vocabulary to catalogue and index their content. These are a standardised list of words and phrases to ensure that searches retrieve all relevant results, even when authors use different terms. Controlled vocabulary may also be referred to as subjects, subject headings, subject terms, descriptors, thesaurus, or index terms, depending on which database you are using. 

Examples of databases that use this technique include ERIC, PsycInfo and Medline. If these apply to you and your discipline, you’ll find out how to use them on your Subject Guide.

360 degree searching

Looking at the references of a useful article or book chapter is an easy way to identify other potential sources to read. This will lead you to find older material that was published before your original article. Citation searching, on the other hand, allows you to search forwards from an article, to find publications which have subsequently used that original article in their own bibliography. This allows you to find more up-to-date analysis of your topic, and trace academic debates forwards, as well as backwards, in time.

We call this process of looking back at references and forwards at citations, 360 degree searching. Key databases that enable you to use citation searching include Google Scholar (click on the Cited by link underneath any record), Scopus (look for Cited by in the right hand column of your results) and Ovid.

Keeping up to date

If you’re involved in ongoing study or research, it’s vitally important that you keep up to date with new publications and developments in your field. Subject databases allow you save your searches and even set up automatic alerts when new information is released. Mailing lists, discussion groups and social media are also excellent ways to collaborate and stay informed.