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ENVI 130 | Introduction to Geosystems

Professor Rebecca Urban.

Can't Find Anything?

  • Boil your topic down to the most important words in your topic--the keywords.  Keywords are typically (but not always) nouns. Ignore superfluous words such as: in, the, of, with, against, affect, impact.  
  • Put each different piece of your topic in a separate search box, if available.  Using the topic of the human or environmental impact of Hurricane Katrina as an example below, each different piece of the topic is entered on a separate line.  Synonyms for the pieces are connected by OR--and kept on the same line:


  • Search in the ABSTRACT or TITLE field.  Click on the Select a Field Optional box to select the abstract or title field.  Or focus your search by using "an exact phrase" search--that is, putting quotation marks around a phrase to glue the words together:  "hurricane katrina".
  • Add synonyms to your search if you're getting few results.  Keep your synonyms all on the same search line and connect them with OR.
  • Remove the least important "piece" of your search while still retaining the "essence" of your search (in the case above, it might be impact).  Removing the least important piece will increase your search results.
  • Broaden your topic slightly.  Can't find specific articles on the monetary, human or environmental impacts of Hurricane Katrina?  Try searching for impact AND Katrina.  Still no luck?  Try a different database.
  • Look for relevant subject or descriptor words when reviewing your results.  Find subject terms either on the results page at the end of the each record--they'll be labelled subjects or descriptors.   Write down relevant subject terms that you find.  Subject terms are the "proper" words you should be using when you search.  
  • Run another search using subject terms Go back to the search screen and using the subject terms you discovered, search your subject terms in the subject or descriptor field.  Subject terms are gold threads--they will almost always lead you to the most relevant results.  Records found with a subject search will be ABOUT those subjects, not just mentioning them--as can be the case with a keyword search.
  • Use:
  • Boolean connectors (AND, OR, NOT)
  • Exact phrase searching -- "Hurricane Katrina" 
  • Field searches (search within the title, abstract, or subject fields)
  • Get the full-text.   When you find an article you want, use the       link to find full-text.
  • Get a copy.  Use the Interlibrary Loan link to receive a copy of the article or book from another library.


If your initial search does not produce the desired results, try:

Strategy Example
Word Choice

Keep search queries simple and descriptive;  use as few terms as possible.  Avoid natural language queries (What were the monetary damages and human impacts of Hurricane Katrina?) as they can limit your results.  Use "hurricane katrina" AND damage, or "hurricane katrina" AND human.

Phrase Search

Use double quotation marks ("Hurricane Katrina") to search terms as a phrase and focus your results.  Remember that a search of "Hurricane Katrina" will retrieve only those pieces of information that refer to Hurricane Katrina exactly like that.  Citations that use simply Katrina will not be retrieved.


In Google, use site: to limit your results to a specific website or website domain. The query Hurricane Katrina site:gov will only retrieve information about Hurricane Katrina from U.S. Government websites. In library databases, try limiting to academic sources or by publication year.


In Google, to remove unwanted search terms, place an - in front of the term you don't want. For example: eruptions -limnic will find information on eruptions, but not limnic eruptions.  In library databases change the AND to a NOT, and enter the term you want to exclude in the search box after the NOT.


Good searchers always think of synonyms to include in their searches.  When you search for synonyms in library databases, keep your synonyms on the SAME line and connect them with OR.  

Word Endings

Library databases do not automatically truncate--you'll need to use help to figure out the symbol used to truncate, Truncators will search for all variant word endings.   For example, in EBSCO databases, one can truncate using *: searching for erupt* will retrieve erupt, erupts, eruptions, eruptions, erupted.