photo of scientist/researcher in lab/ public domain
Have you ever typed a phrase or question into a search engine and gotten weird (or no) results? That's because most search engines use keyword searching as their default function, so the terms that you type in are being searched by the search engine as though they would appear exactly like that in the title of a book, name of an author, or title of a journal article.
When searching databases or catalogs for resources about your topic, use the main terms in your research question.
Example: Your topic is on women's suffrage in the United States. Your keywords could be women suffrage united states to give you a broad overview of women's suffrage in the United States. If you wanted to refine your search to a specific person in the women's suffrage movement in the United States, you could add AND Elizabeth Stanton to your search.
You should also think about synonyms for your keywords. We could have searched women AND vote AND America. We should see similar results, but sometimes using synonyms give you completely different results. This is helpful because what you may call something (Obama Care) may be called something else in academic literature (Affordable Care Act).
Select the Advanced Search option to the right so you can get more options for your search:
Use Boolean Operators with your Keywords
Type of publication: Scholarly, peer-reviewed journal? Newspaper? Is it a book or a web site?
Author: Who is the author- are they an expert in this field? What else has he/she written? What are their credentials and profession? Can you detect a bias or point of view from the author?
Publisher: Government, university or commercial press? Is it a corporation, a government agency or a professional organization?
Audience: Who is this information intended for? Is this for the general public or people with a particular bias?
Publication date: How current is the information? When was it published/created?
Purpose: Was it written to inform, persuade, entertain or sell?
Usefulness and coverage: How is it relevant to your topic? Is it in-depth coverage, or only partial? Primary or secondary source? What kind of evidence is presented?
Links/reference/bibliography: Are they reliable? Do the links work? Is the bibliography comprehensive, appropriate, and/or sufficient?
Also helpful is UC Berkeley Library's great guide for evaluating web pages.
Photo of cold medicine and cough drops; public domain