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Lund University

Malmö Art Academy: Fine Arts

Information on searching from LU

Basic techniques


  • astron*
        - astronaut
        - astronomy


  • wom?n
        - woman, women
  • Lind??ist
        - Lindkvist, Lindqvist, Lindquist

Exact phrases

  • ”climatic change”
        - not: climatic changes, changes in the climate

The Information Search Process

The information search process



Before you start searching, take the time to reflect about the following: 

  • What am I going to use the information for? 
  • What kind of sources will I be needing?
  • In which search facilities can I find suitable material?
  • How do I search for that material? 
  • Which limitations should I apply?

The first step in the information search process is always the question or issue you want to address: What makes a research question good? Which criteria are applicable? Is it possible to answer?

Encyclopaedias and subject thesauri can be a good start to get suggestions for keywords and main concepts. Some databases has indexes or so called thesauri to  help you find subject terms suitable for that database. Also remember to figure out  synonyms and variations for the search words. 

Before you start searching, think through what kind of information you are looking for. Which sources and literature may be useful? At the starting point of the material gathering process, dissertations, academic papers/essays and reference works are good staring points to learn about and get familiar with a new subject area. Reference works, that is subject specific encyclopaedias and handbooks, are very useful to get an overview of a research field. You will find comprehensive articles about the research within an issue and provide references for further reading.

To optimize your searches it is appropriate to get familiar with the most common search techniques. Most search services have a "help session" or an on-line tutorial where it is explained how to which search techniques should be used and how to use them. Common search techniques are boolean search, phrase search  and usage of truncation and wild cards.

The search process is seldom straight or simple, you might have to redefine your search terms as you go. Remember to save your searches, search words and results.

The links within the text above are directed to learning resources - texts and training within search methodology (sökmetod), resources created by Lund University Libraries.

Finding the right keywords

The general guideline in information retrieval is to use as specific search terms as possible to describe your information need, Also, you have to consider the following aspects:

  • does the search term have synonyms or related terms
  • does the search term have broader or narrower terms
  • how does the search term translate in other languages (important when searching information in foreign languages)

Mind maps or concept maps are a way to specify and refine the search problem and to determine search terms. For instance, the subject "history of women's education" may be presented as a mind map such as this:


Besides relying on creative thinking, you may also turn to dictionaries, special glossaries and controlled vocabularies to detect suitable search terms. In a controlled vocabulary certain term or terms have been preselected to describe a certain matter or subject. When a controlled vocabulary presents how certain terms are related to each other, it is called thesaurus. Examples of  controlled vocabularies are the thesaurus for ERIC, an extensive database for education-related materials, MeSH, a thesaurus in the life sciences, and the Swedish controlled vocabulaty for books, svenska ämnesord.

An example of term relationships:



Broader terms

Descriptive linguistics

Narrower terms


Related terms

Context free grammar
Discourse analysis
Generative grammar
Grammar translation method
Sentence diagramming
Sentence structure
Structural grammar
Surface structure
Traditional grammar
Writing skills

Controlled vocabularies are an excellent aid in finding search terms and keywords. When using controlled vocabularies, the search is conducted using the same terms that have been used in entering the information in databases. What is more, controlled vocabularies provide related terms and synonyms that otherwise would have been left unnoticed. For an extensive search with the best possible results it is recommended to combine search terms from both everyday language and controlled vocabularies. 

From Search Terms to Search Queries

The primary objective in choosing the search terms is to articulate the information need in concrete, specific wordings. These central concepts produce the search profile, which means that the information seeker must define the central concepts of the search topic, possibly find synonyms and equivalents in foreign languages and find equivalent, broader or narrower terms for the keywords. In addition, the information seeker must consider how to combine the keywords in search query and whether to define the search using limiters such as date or language. However, bear in mind that the ways to define the query and possible limiters can vary between different databases.

The mind map that was mentioned above can, for example, be formulated into a following search query:

  • (women OR gender) AND (education OR profession) AND (history OR "history of education" OR "women's history" OR " female history")

The next chapter on search techniques will look at how to combine search terms and how to use truncation. 

The needed information is not always found on the first attempt. The search profile and search terms often have to be modified during the search. Examining the most interesting and relevant results can prove to be fruitful; more searches can be conducted with the keywords found from these records.

Refinement of the keywords, limiters used in a search, and the chosen database can significantly alter the search results. The use of only one database does not necessarily offer sufficient results and therefore data must often be searched from several other information sources.

When you have defined and specified your topic and chosen the keywords and possible limiters, you may begin the search in database.

Source: University of Tampere: Tampere University library information search guide

General search tips

When searching for information in any kind of database or on the web, there are a few things to consider.

  • For what reason do you need the information? Are you going to write an academic paper or thesis or are you looking for some light reading or for information about a country before moving there? The answer to this question tells you which kind of source to look for and perhaps also where to start.
  • If you are researching for academic purposes, then it is always best to find out if someone else has written about your topic before you. Start by searching for student papers and other academic materials. You will find links to different resources where you can do this in the Subpages of this LibGuides page.
  • Pick keywords that describe your topic to use for searching. Use them in several different databases and if possible, try to also think of synonyms and search for them as well. If you find it difficult to use a certain database or portal, then look around for the "Help or "Search help" button. There you will typically find all the information you need on how to use that particular database. This is true for both LUBsearch and Google as well!

In this LibGuide you are meant to find many different places to search and also some optional ways of finding information. Also take a look at the information on how to evaluate a source or a website.

Types of Information Sources - Library Databases vs Search Engines