Knowledge Update

Use of Search Strategies in Retrieving Information Resources

blog post


Information has become the most significant source of our day-to-day life. The information available on the internet may create some confusion among its users because of its diversity. In order to get proper and exact information from the internet, users need to know the effective techniques and strategies to employ. Search strategies are ways of using search terms in finding required information from search tools, such as search engines (Google), the library catalogue and online databases. Search strategy is a structured organization of terms used to search a database. The search strategy shows how these terms combine in order to retrieve the best results. Different databases work in different ways, so you need to adapt your search strategy for each of the databases you use. This process is often referred to as "tailoring" your search. You may also decide to develop separate search strategies for different aspects of your research. You will probably need to test your strategies several times, refining them as you start to look at the results you retrieve from the database. Databases are a collection of information usually held in a computer that is organized and can be easily accessed, managed and updated in various ways.

Kinds of information retrieval system: 

1. Offline Search: In offline search, users can get the required information with or without the help of a computer and the internet. For example, libraries, CD-ROM etc. 

2. Online Search: means the search of a remotely located database through interactive communications with the help of a computer and communication channel. Online databases can be accessed through a vendor or directly. For example OPAC, Databases, Internet etc.

Search strategy techniques are designed to help users to locate the information they need effectively and efficiently. These techniques help users to find out the required information easily. They are as follows:

  1. BOOLEAN OPERATOR: it enables users to construct a logical relationship between search term, for example, French revolution or French or British Or French not British, if you want reference including the entire search you will use “AND”. The symbol often used for “AND” is A+B. the second operator will be “OR”, which is used if you want reference including any of the search terms for instance academic institution or higher institution, preschool education etc. You used “NOT” if you want to exclude a certain part of any search result. 

Cleary Example of the Terminologies

AND = A + B = AB for example snack and soft drink

OR = A or B = A, B, for example, Pepsi or coca-cola

NOT = A, not B or A – B cat, not dog

Truncation:  most databases are not intelligent they just search for exactly what you type in, so truncation and wildcard limit the problem encounter with databases. Truncation is used to expand result by instructing the computer to look at the word and all alternative words. The truncation symbol retrieves any number of letters for a word. For example Africa, African, Africana or agriculture, agricultural, then highlight one and pick one. Common truncation symbols are *(asterisk)? (Question mark) #pound sign in finding related terms.

Keywords: These are the most common search techniques used to retrieve information. For example, we use search terms to retrieve information for an instant clock, weather, and greenhouse. For example global warring in Nigeria that is referring to weather. A keyword search will search for titles, subjects and abstract when you are conducting a subject search. For example, find any record in Shakespeare the result will be Romeo and Juliet or any record on Wole Soyinka result will be on the lion and the jewel etc.

Wild card: Searching generally places the symbol after a word, it means that it is telling the database to look for an abbreviation of that word and can come in the middle of the word. For example Wom?n or te*t 

i.e. which may mean different thing altogether.

Phrase Search Techniques: 

Some databases and search engines will enable you to search for an exact phrase (a sentence that has no subject or predicate) i.e. it has no meaning. For example, the 'green revolution' is a sentence but has no meaning. “Surveillance investigator” or French revolution. In a situation where we have truncation within the phrase, it now becomes a Boolean search.

Subject Heading Search: The local catalogue of the libraries and many of the larger databases that aid subject headings are descriptors because they describe the materials. They described the content of a publication as exactly as much.


Today, each one of us needs information for some reason or the other. A search strategy is more like a tool that enhances the search quires of the researcher when embarking on his research so that documents can be quickly retrieved to save time and resource of the researcher. With search strategy, the researcher will have the document at one click on the page of the document at the right time and more connivance, easy for the users to apply.


MacFarlane, A. (2011). Using multiple-choice questions to assist learning for Information Retrieval. In Efthimiadis, E. Fernandez-Luna, J.M. Huete, J.F. and MacFarlane, A. Eds. Teaching and Learning in Information Retrieval. 

Springer Verlag, Berlin, 107-121.

Sampson M, McGowan J. 2006. Errors in search strategies were identified by type and frequency. 

J. Clinical Epidemiology. 59, 10, 1057–63.

Taylor, A.G., & Daniel N.J. (2009). The organization of information (3rd ed.) Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, p. 5


Mr Abdulqawiyyu Mustapha is a  Library Assistant in Skyline University Nigeria. He has a Degree in Library Science from Bayero University Kano (BUK), Kano.

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