U.C. Berkeley

Library Web
Finding Information on the Internet: A Tutorial
Recommended Search Strategy:
Analyze your topic & Search with peripheral vision
UC Berkeley - Teaching Library Internet Workshops
About This Tutorial | Table of Contents | Contact us

The Five-Step Search Strategy We Recommend

Step #1. Analyze your topic to decide where to begin
Use our printable form (PDF file) as a guide in analyzing your topic.
If your browser does not open PDF files, download the free Adobe® Acrobat® Reader.
Does your topic...
have distinctive words or phrases?
methernitha, unique meaning
"affirmative action", specific, accepted meaning in word cluster
have NO distinctive words or phrases you can think of? You have only common or general terms that get the "wrong" pages.
"order out of chaos", used in too many contexts to be useful
sundiata, retrieves a myth, a rock group, a person, etc.
seek an overview of a broad topic?
victorian literature, alternative energy sources
specify a narrow aspect of a broad or common topic?
automobile recyclability, want current research, future designs, not how to recycle or oil recycling or other community efforts
have synonymous, equivalent terms, or variant spellings or endings that need to be included?
echinoderm OR echinoidea OR "sea urchin", any may be in useful pages
"cold fusion energy" OR "hydrogen energy", some use one term, some the other; you want both, although not precisely equivalent
millennium OR millennial OR millenium OR millenial OR "year 2000", etc.
Pages you want may contain any or all.
Make you feel confused? Don't really know much about the topic yet? Need guidance?

Step #2. Pick the right starting place using this table:
YOUR TOPIC'S FEATURES: Search Engines Subject Directories Specialized Databases Find an Expert LUCK
Distinctive or word or phrase? Enclose phrases in " ".
Test run your word or phrase in Google.
Search the broader concept, what your term is "about." Want data? Facts? Statistics?
All of something?
One of many like things?
Schedules? Maps?
Look for a specialized database or webpage, or Custom Search Engine on your topic.

Look for a specialized subject directory on your topic.
Find a society or organiztion on your topic and look at their links.
E-mail the author of a good page you find.
Find a discussion group or blog.
It never hurts to seek help.

Fortune favors the bold!
Keep your mind open.
Learn as you search.
NO distinctive words or phrases? Use more than one term or phrase in " " to get fewer results. Try to find distinctive terms in Subject Directories
Seek an overview?
Look for a specialized Subject Directory focused on your topic
Narrow aspect of broad or common topic? Boolean searching as in Yahoo! Search.
Look for a Directory focused on the broad subject.
Synonyms, equivalent terms, variants Choose search engines with Boolean OR, or
Truncation, or Field limiting.
Confused? Need more information?

Try an encyclopedia to learn basic concepts and keywords. For personalized help, ask a librarian.

Step #3. Learn as you go & VARY your approach with what you learn.

Don't assume you know what you want to find. Look at search results and see what you might use in addition to what you've thought of.

Step #4. Don't bog down in any strategy that doesn't work.

Switch from search engines to directories and back.

Step #5. Return to previous strategies better informed.

Quick Links
Search Engines |Subject Directories | Meta-Search Engines | Invisible Web

Creative Commons License
Search Strategies: Search with Peripheral Vision
Copyright © 2012 The Regents of the University of California is licensed
under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

Last update 05/08/12. Server manager: Contact