There is a tendency for people to simply type their questions into a database and hope for the best. While this might work OK for Google, it doesn't work so great for the databases, and your google searches will improve by thinking more strategically about your search. By identifying the key concepts and what other words or phrases describe that concept you will get more meaningful results. Here is an example of how you can break down a question into concepts and their related phrases.
|Original Phrase||Related words or ideas|
|eyewitness testimony||eyewitness identification/misidentification, false testimony, police lineup, eyewitness errors, lineup identification, eyewitness evidence, eyewitness memory|
|wrongful conviction||innocence, false imprisonment, exoneration, false arrest, wrongful incarceration, criminal justice errors|
|how often||statistics, data, history, frequency, extent|
One thing students struggle with is finding too much irrelevant information in the databases. This is because of one very specific problem: computers are literal. They will search for your words wherever they can, which means you might get a result that uses your words in a different context.
One way you can help them understand you is to use quotation marks in your search to ensure the database or search engine looks for those words together as a phrase. Be on the lookout for words that provide a specific meaning the word it comes before to after.
|Words with Multiple Contexts||Words that Describe Previous Word||Type in search box, In quotes|
|school||high, elementary, charter||"charter school"|
|games||Olympic, video, board||"video games"|
|tiger||cat, Woods, king, Detroit||"Tiger Woods"|
AND - Finds all the words
OR - Finds either of the words
NOT - Excludes a word from search
" " - Searches as an exact phrase
* - Truncates a term to search for varied endings
( ) - Tells the database to do this part first