Most information searches start with keywords.
Keywords allow you to search with natural language, describing a topic in words that you would actually use.
When choosing keywords you should choose words that are most likely to appear in an article or book that relates to your topic. Avoid words that are too common and likely to appear in multiple topics.
Having trouble choosing keywords for your topic? Try writing out a topic statement. Once you have your statement, pull out the most important words. (Hint: look at the nouns.)
Synonyms are other words that have the same meaning as your keywords. Think of words that may be used interchangeably. You may want to add some of these to your keyword list, including alternate spellings or forms of your keywords.
When you are using a term that is made up of more than one word, it may be necessary to enter the term as a phrase. The most common way of doing this is to surround the term with quotation marks.
This tells the catalog, database, or search engine that you are only interested in resources where these words appear together and in the correct order. This can also be helpful if you are looking for an exact title or a personal name.
A wildcard is a symbol that tells the computer to accept any letter in that place. If you are not sure how to spell a term or there are alternate spellings, a wildcard will allow you to retrieve results. The most common symbol for this is a ?, but it can vary between databases. You can check the Help menu to see if wildcards work in any given platform.
Truncation literally means "cutting short." It allows you to put in part of a word and retrieve all the forms of the word that start with the characters you have entered. The most common symbol used for truncation is an asterisk (*), but it may be different across databases. Truncation can allow any number of letters, and it only works at the end of a word.
Be careful not to over use truncation. If you cut a word too short, you will get words that don't actually relate.