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Learn at the Libraries

Learn more about university level writing, how to search the library, and the correct way to use references.

Searching the

The Library & Google

Google can be a helpful tool when seeking general information (e.g. news coverage, weather forecasts, etc.) but it’s not usually the best resource for doing academic research. It is difficult to know whether the information you find comes from a credible source, and a lot of the information on Google is not scholarly. Credible, scholarly material may be behind a paywall which prevents you from accessing the source you need. Through the UM Libraries, you have resources and tools that are better suited for academic information, such as the Library Search option on the Libraries' website. In addition, Subject Guides include a number of key databases and other resources that are recommended for research in your discipline.


Searching in Google


  • Easy to use
  • Searches a broad range of resources 
  • Usually retrieves a high number of results
  • Provides citation counts so you can see lists of other publications that reference a source
  • Results may include up-to-the-minute information (e.g. breaking news)


  • Little control over search functions
  • Search algorithms are unknown so users cannot determine how or why Google ranks some articles higher than others
  • Most articles remain behind a paywall
  • Cannot limit search to peer-reviewed articles
  • Cannot narrow your search to a specific subject area


What about Google Scholar?

Many students and academics use Google Scholar for their research. Rather than broadly searching the internet, Google Scholar results focus more on websites that include academic publications. Although Google Scholar has some advantages, it does not include all the scholarly databases you have access to through UM Libraries. 

Does this mean I should never use Google?

Google was designed to find websites. Therefore, you may want to consult Google if an assignment asks you to incorporate non-scholarly sources. This search engine can be useful for finding news-related information or public information from governments and organizations. Although you might find some academic books and articles by searching Google Scholar, it is not recommended that you search Google Scholar on its own. It is difficult to find the best resources. Alternatively, searching the library will save you time by allowing you to look for information within a relevant subject area or database. If you have questions about searching for information, you can always ask for help at any library service desk, or by contacting a librarian. 

Searching the Library


​There is no single effective search strategy that will work perfectly every time, but... there are some things you can do to save time and find relevant books and articles more easily. 


Get Acquainted With Your Topic

Searching is easier when you know the right words to search with, so start by reviewing your textbook and course readings, making note of important concepts. Second, look at reference materials. Encyclopedias and dictionaries can give you the basic information you need to get started. Most encyclopedias and dictionaries are now online and many are available through the Libraries' website. When you search the library website you simply need to choose "Reference Entries" as your Resource Type to view a list of encyclopedia or dictionary entries related to your topic. 


Choosing Search Words and Phrases

As you read more about your research topic it is a good idea to make a list of keywords and phrases that you think will make good search terms. The Academic Learning Centre has many handouts on note taking and concept mapping that can help you with this. Choosing the right search words is not always very intuitive so sometimes you will need to try different words and phrases get the best results. This is one of the reasons why looking through reference materials is a great way to start. The more familiar you are with subject vocabulary the easier searching becomes. If you are having difficulties a librarian can help you find the right search words. 


An Approach to Searching


An Example Search

Understanding Search Results

Each item in the library has a corresponding catalogue record that tells you what it is and how to get it. If you look for a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel by Margaret Atwood, you will find the record below in the search results. Hover over the picture below with your cursor to see what it tells you about this copy of the book. The full record (link below) also gives you information that is needed for writing citations, provides links to other works by Margaret Atwood and linked subject headings to other fiction on the subject of misogyny, women, and relationships. 



Filtering Search Results

Filters quickly narrow your search down to a list of relevant sources. This is especially useful when your assignment requires you to use specific types of materials such as peer-reviewed journals, books, articles, or publications from a specific time frame (ex. articles published in the past 10 years). Library search filters appear on the left side of the results page.


Commonly Used Filters: 

This refers to the format or publication type. You can choose to see only online or in-library items, open access items, or those that are peer-reviewed. 
Subjects are categories that define what an item is about. This filter is helpful to use when you need to narrow your search or when searching for more than one item on the same topic.
Publication Date
Select a range of publication dates for the items in your results list.
Resource Type
Choose to see only books, peer-reviewed articles, newspapers, or other types of sources.
Select the languages for publications in your search results.
Choose to narrow results by the library where they are located.

Advanced Searching

The Advanced Search feature allows you to have more control over your search. 

Using the Advanced Search makes it easy to combine search words and phrases. You can tell the search engine how to combine search terms by adding AND, OR, & NOT. You can also search with exact phrases using quotation marks and use a * to search words with multiple endings. 

Combining search words with AND, OR, & NOT

Combine words with

  • AND to get results that have both words. 
  • OR to get results that have either or both words.
  • NOT to get results that have one word but not the other. 
Adding "Quotation Marks"  to Phrases

Put words in quotation marks to get results that have the exact phrase. For example:

  • "Climate Change"
  • "Doctor - Patient Confidentiality"
  • "World War II"
Using Truncation (*) for Multiple Word Endings

Add an asterisk to the end of a word to get results that include the root word as well as any possible endings. For example if you search with Child* results will include the words: 

  • Child
  • Children
  • Childhood


Searching for Special Formats

The Advanced Search 'Material Type' field allows you to limit to a type of format, but these formats are quite broad. Use the Subject Guides developed by librarians for your area to find information on searching for special formats such as Maps, Music Scores, Curriculum Guides, and Design Standards.  


Advanced Search Example