Skip to page content

Using Phrase Searches

Most search tools do not automatically "tie" adjacent search terms together. The words are searched separately and then combined, so we frequently get results that are not on our topics.

Using phrases helps us create search terms with the words in an exact order. Phrase searches can enhance search accuracy and retrieve more relevant results. However, if we use uncommon phrases or phrases that are not recognized by the search tools, we'll get too few results.

The best strategy is to create phrase searches for terms that can be expected to appear in others' writings. For example, "high-stakes tests" is a commonly used term in the education field. Therefore, it would probably be a good phrase search.

Phrases are usually created by enclosing the search terms in quotation marks (e.g. "human resource management"). Some search tools, however, use other punctuation symbols for phrases. For example, we would use single quotation marks (apostrophes) to create phrase searches in the library catalog. Also, some search tools do not support phrase searches.

Reading the search help files in online search tools will tell us which symbols to use for phrases and other search strategies.

Trying different phrases, looking for clues in the articles we read, and keeping a research log helps us create effective searches. We can gain further control over searches by using Boolean operators (connectors), which are explained next.