3. Finding information

With so much information available, how do you know where to start?

Search strategies

One of the most important things to do when looking for information for your assignment is to plan your search. There are often alternative words and phrases that you can use to find further sources about the same topic. Planning your search terms and phrases will retrieve more relevant results.

Read the Library’s Plan your search guide for an introduction to creating a search strategy.

If you use the SKILL technique to plan your search, you will end up with better results.

  • Summarise your topic
  • Select your keywords
  • Identify synonyms and alternative keywords
  • Link your keywords and phrases (e.g. with AND, OR and NOT)
  • Locate and evaluate your results

To help you plan your searches, we provide a search strategy planner document that you can use to follow the steps.

Using the Search strategy planner (PDF, 22.5kb) plan a search for the question ‘Discuss the rise of media representations of the Australian white ibis in modern Australia’.

When you’ve finished, compare it to our version of the search strategy (PDF, 29kb).

Sometimes you can also use special punctuation or “syntax” to refine your search further. Brackets () can be used to logically group together your query. Quotation marks “” can be used to ensure all search results contain a specific word or phrase. An asterisk can be used to search for permutations of a word, so for example comput* would give results for computers, computation, computing e.t.c.

Writing “before:” or “after:” followed by a date, limits results to that specific date range. Writing “filetype:” followed by a specific file type such as EPUB or PDF, restricts search results to that file type. Adding “intitle:”, “inurl:”, or “intext:” before your query, lets you specifically search for a word in a websites title, url and main text respectively.

Searching the Library

The Library gives you access to over 2 million book titles and over 100,000 journal titles, in print and electronically. This amount of information would be a bit overwhelming to search through by hand, so Library Search is here to help you find what you need. Library Search is also available on the Library homepage.

Watch our Library Search video (YouTube, 2m32s) for a quick introduction to searching for resources.

You will be presented with a log in option when you run a search in Library Search. We recommend you log in to get more results and quickly access the full text of any online resources.

For a physical item, Library Search will show the locationcall number, and availability. It is important to know this information before coming to the Library and trying to find the item on a shelf.

Search for the name of your program (for example, ‘Chemistry’) using Library Search.  How many results do you get back?  Can you narrow your search to get more useful results? Try limiting by content type or publication date.


You might not find everything that you need in Library Search. You may want to use multidisciplinary and subject-specific databases when you need to search precisely or comprehensively.

Databases are high quality and subject specific online information-retrieval systems. You can use them to find journal articles and other publication types, such as books, theses, newspapers, videos and images. Although accessed over the internet, databases are not traditional websites and many require logins to use.

The Databases link under Research Tools and Techniques on the Library homepage lists multidisciplinary and subject-specific databases. Use the ‘Databases by category’ to browse for your subject area. You can also find information on relevant databases in the Subject Guides for your subject area.

Video player icon Watch Which database should I use to find journal articles on my topic? (YouTube, 2m19s).

Searching databases

Before you start, it’s always a good idea to plan your search strategy. At this stage, ensure that you choose the right database, and carefully select your keywords. Limiting your search to the article title or abstract fields will help retrieve a smaller number of relevant articles.


Web of Science record screenshot of article, How green is your garden?: Urban form and socio-demographic factors influence yard vegetation, visitation, and ecosystem service benefits
Screenshot: Web of Science. Database search results. Retrieved March 3, 2020.

Searching by subject

Many of UQ’s databases also have their own subject-specific thesaurus which can help you find information within that database using subject concepts rather than keywords. Examples of databases that contain a thesaurus:

Check the Help feature within the database for further information or contact AskUs.

Computer mouse icon To access a database relevant to your field of study, check our Subject guides. Identify where the advanced search features are and whether it has a thesaurus.


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Information Essentials Copyright © 2023 by The University of Queensland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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