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Ever been frustrated when you use a library database or an Internet search engine, and your results list features a lot of irrelevant results? Here’s a quick tip for increasing the relevance of your search results: If you are searching for a string of words and you want them to appear together, put quotation marks around them. For example: “time management” or “intellectual property law.” In almost all databases or search engines, when you put quotation marks around search terms, you are conducting what’s called an Exact Phrase search. That means your results will only include, for example, “time” and “management” right next to each other, rather than including results which feature those words but have them located in different sections of the text.

Using an Exact Phrase search will increase the relevance of your results; however, note that it will also reduce your number of results. So a good strategy might be to try searching both ways: “intellectual property law” and intellectual property law. Doing this will allow you to see some results that may not have come up during the Exact Phrase search.

Try to avoid searching for long phrases or strings of terms together, like: “intellectual property law in the United States.” It would probably be extremely rare for an article or e-book page to feature such a long string of words in that exact same order. If you want to search for results on that topic, a good way to do so would be to search for: “intellectual property law” United States. Leaving United States outside of the quotation marks ensures that those words will be searched under a basic Keyword Search, where the words are found anywhere in the document.

As with online searching in general, if at first it doesn’t succeed, try to change up your search terms altogether, or eventually you may need to try a different database.

If you have any questions about searching our databases or anything else related to your research or class assignments, please feel free to contact the EU librarians!

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