Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

EGR390: Special Topics in Engineering: Search Tips

N. Ismail, Fall 2015

Search Tips

Whether you are searching for scholarly articles in a library database or other kinds of information,
it pays to be organized as you start your search. Break down searching into a three step process.


Write down as much information about your topic as possible. Answer the following questions:

  • What is your topic?
  • What questions do you have?
  • What do you know? What don't you know?

Then, try to summarize what you are looking for in one or two sentences.

EXAMPLE: I would like to learn more about the effects of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCP's) on the environment, in particular, water quality, and methods of their removal, including direct photolysis.

Using the information in Step 1, list the main concepts of your topic.

EXAMPLE: pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCP's), water, direct photolysis

Now create a list of synonyms of your key concepts. Think broadly, think narrowly! This step is helping you expand your search
by expressing your query in a variety of ways. If you get too many results, then you can work on focusing your search.

pharmaceuticals and personal care products





*=wildcard; will find variations in a word.


water quality 


direct photolysis

removal mechanism*




ou will use the word lists you developed in Step 3 to create search strategies. Use "OR" between synonyms and "AND" between
concepts. For instance:

("pharmaceuticals and personal care products" OR ppcp)  AND  water  AND  (direct photolysis OR degradation) 

Download this worksheet (with bonus search tips!) to help you organize your search strategy.


Ask Us - Meet with Us

Teaching, Learning & Research Librarians


Contact: Teaching, Learning & Research Librarians

Librarian Contacts - 2021

Rocco Piccinino is no longer with Smith College Libraries.
Please use Ask Us to contact other research librarians.

Explore Help