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Art and Art History: Searching techniques

Searching for information


Searching for information - where to start?

There is a lot of information out there! Searching for information is easy but finding reliable, useful and relevant information is a much harder task.  You will need to search for good information sources when you come to learn about a subject or topic. To answer an assignment question you will search for books, journals, articles and many more information sources.  This is where developing effective skills in searching effectively come in. This page takes you through a range of different strategies and techniques for effectively searching for information online. This could be searching our Library catalogue Primo, subject databases and online search engines. 

Why do I need to learn to search effectively?

Learning how to form effective search strategies  will help you find relevant and useful information. It is very easy to find information in an electronic database by typing in a few keywords. What is not so easy is to find the information and results you actually need and require. By adopting certain search techniques, the results you find will be more concise and more relevant to your topic. This will save you time and enable you to focus on information of real value to your studies and research.

How do I do it?

Use this page to learn different ways to plan, organise, execute and refine your searches.

Information Sources


You can find Information anywhere — books, diaries, social media, blogs, personal experiences, magazine articles, expert opinions, encyclopedias, and web pages — and the type of information you need will vary depending on the question you are trying to answer for your assignment or research.

Different assignments require information from a variety of sources; therefore, you need to understand where to go to find certain types of information. Knowing what type of source you need will also help you find the correct source.

There are three broad categories of sources:

  • primary
  • secondary and
  • tertiary

Take a look through these tabs for definitions and a few examples.

Primary sources are original materials on which other research is based. They are firsthand documents that provide direct evidence on your topic.


  • Diaries

  • Speeches

  • Correspondence

  • Interviews

  • Manuscripts

  • Government Documents

  • News film footage

  • Archival Materials

  • Autobiographies 

  • Art works

  • Novels

  • Poetry

  • Music

  • Architectural drawings/plans

  • Photographs

  • Film
Secondary sources are the interpretation, commentary or analysis of other sources. They are accounts written after the fact with the benefit of hindsight. Secondary sources are not evidence, but rather commentary on and discussion of evidence.
  • Bibliographies

  • Biographical works

  • Commentaries, criticisms

  • Conference proceedings

  • Essays or reviews

  • Histories

  • Literary criticism such as journal articles

  • Magazine and newspaper articles

  • Monographs, other than fiction and autobiographies

  • Reprints of art works

Tertiary sources are organisation, categorisation, index or collection of sources. A tertiary source presents summaries or condensed versions of materials, usually with references back to the primary and/or secondary sources. 


  • Dictionaries

  • Encyclopedias

  • Handbooks

  • Almanacs

  • Abstracts 

  • Bibliographies

  • Fact books and digests

  • Directories and guidebooks

  • Indexing and abstracting sources

Peer-reviewed articles

Peer-reviewed literature

When you are searching for sources, keep a look out for peer-reviewed articles.

These types of articles:

  • are submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed or scholarly journal
  • have gone through a rigorous evaluation by a board of scholarly reviewers in the subject area of the journal. 
  • are reviewed for quality of research and adherence to editorial standards of the journal, before they are accepted for publication.

A peer-reviewed article is an article that has a badge of quality.

In Primo you will see this image for a peer reviewed source:  


Managing your searches and results


Every time you get results from a database, you will need to manage them.

To avoid duplicating your searches again and again, save them! 

Take a look through these tabs to find out more on how to save searches and records and how to go about emailing them to yourself. 

If you find that you are repeatedly searching for the same word or phrase, you can save a search term to your Account on Primo.

In Primo, at the top of the search results page, you will see an option to Save query.

 If you would like to be notified by email when new results are added to your search, click Turn on notification for this query on the banner that appears. 


Click on the push pin icon which is located in the top right hand corner of the Primo page to go to your favourites, and then click the Saved Searches tab to view your saved searches:



You have the option to delete these saved searches whenever you wish by clicking on Unpin this search:



next to the search you wish to remove.

If you have found an item on Primo you wish to save  to your account for future reference, you can store or save a record by clicking the push pin icon next to the title.


At the top right of the Primo page, click the "Go to my favourites" push pin icon to view your saved items.



You can email your saved items to yourself too. 

  • Visit Primo and sign in
  • At top right of the screen select the pin


  • Click drop down menu next to your name, select Saved Items


  • Select up to 30 records by clicking the number box next to each record


  • Above the list, click ... then select E-MAIL



  • you can export one item at a time by click

 next to the title.

  • Continue until you have exported all the records you want to email to yourself from the Basket and any sub-folders you have previously created

Evaluating sources

Why do you need to evaluate your sources?

Being able to evaluate the quality of the sources of information you find is an essential academic skill. It can help you to improve your critical thinking and reading abilities. If you improve your evaluation skills, then the quality of the information you find and use will increase.

Evaluating sources will help you to:

  • develop a deeper and more accurate understanding of your subject.
  • identify credible, valid and quality information.

Consider these guidelines when reviewing your sources:

  • Authority: Who is the author? 
  • Purpose: Why was the source created? Who does it exist?
  • Publication: Where was it published?
  • Relevance: How is it relevant to your research? 
  • Date: When was it written? 
  • Documentation: Did they cite their sources? Who did they cite?
  • Accuracy: how reliable and correct is the source?

Identifying search terms or keywords

Before you start

Consider 3 questions:

  • What sort of information do I need?
  • Where should I look for information? 
  • How can I search effectively so that I find relevant materials - what search terms or keywords will find this information?

Highlight the key terms or keywords in your assignment question. Think carefully about suitable keywords and synonyms which are alternative words that have a similar meaning that will enable you to find manageable amounts of relevant material - not so many results to cause information overload, or so few that you retrieve insufficient information.

Think about alternative words/phrases or synonyms you should include in your search in order to improve your search results.

For example:

If you were researching the failure of small business in the UK you could use the following keywords:

  •  failure, success, demise, challenges, risk.

As well as searching for the UK, you might also search for:

  • United Kingdom, GB, Great Britain.


Use a thesaurus for synonyms:

Some databases have a built-in thesaurus you can use to find alternative terms.

Think about if you can use acronyms or abbreviations in your search. These can be included in your search terms in order to find matching results. 

For example: 

  • AIDS and/or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome
  • Doctor and/or Dr

Have a look at the following websites to find more abbreviations and acronyms:

There are over 230,000 entries and 81 categories such as business, medicine, science and international abbreviations and acronyms.

Acronym Finder

Acronym Finder is a searchable dictionary of over 330,000 acronyms and abbreviations.

Think about differences in spellings and terminology, and use alternatives into your search strategy. 

For example:  

  • globalisation (British spelling)
  • globalization (American English spelling) 

Wildcard symbols can help with this:

  • globali?ation will search and find globalisation and globalization
  • organi?e will search and find organise and organize

See 'Using symbols ?' box in the right hand column for further information on how to do this. 

Boolean operators - what are they?

Boolean operators form the basis of database logic and are used to combine concepts when searching. By using these operators, you are able to focus your search. They connect your search words together to either narrow or broaden your set of results.

The three basic boolean operators are:

  • AND
  • OR
  • NOT

Remember to type these operators in capital letters. 

Why use Boolean operators?

  • To focus a search, particularly when your topic contains multiple search terms.
  • To connect various pieces of information to find exactly what you're looking for.

Use AND in a search to:

  • narrow your results
  • tell the database that ALL search terms must be present in the resulting records

​For example:

cat AND dog

exercise AND health

pollution AND water AND pesticides 


Be aware:  In many, but not all, databases, the AND is the default search and automatically puts an AND in between your search terms.

  • Though all your search terms are included in the results, they may not be connected together in the way you want.
  • For example: 
    • Welsh language education is translated to:  Welsh AND language AND education. 
    • climate change is translated to climate AND change
      • The words may appear individually throughout the resulting records.
  • You can search using phrases to make your results more specific (see box opposite).
  • For example:  "Welsh language education" / "climate change"  This way, the phrases show up in the results as you expect them to be.

Use OR in a search to:

  • connect two or more similar concepts (synonyms)
  • broaden your results
  • You are telling the database that ANY of your search terms can be present in the resulting records

For example:

cat OR dog

travel OR tourism

cloning OR genetics OR reproduction

Use NOT in a search to:

  • exclude words from your search
  • narrow your search, telling the database to ignore concepts that may be implied by your search terms

For example: 

cat NOT dog

cloning NOT sheep

travel NOT tourists

You can use multiple operators within the same search to get even more effective and powerful results. Databases follow commands you type in and return results based on those commands. When combining your search terms, be aware of your search order. 

  • Databases usually recognize AND as the primary operator, and will connect concepts with AND together first.
  • If you use a combination of AND and OR operators in a search, enclose the words/concepts in (brackets together).


You are looking for information on teenagers and the use of social media. You could combine your operators as:

  • (teenagers OR adolescents) AND (social media OR facebook)
    • Group the OR concepts together using ( ) to ensure that the search is processed in the expected way.


You are looking for information on cloning humans and cloning sheep. You could combine your operators as:

  • cloning AND (sheep OR human)
    • This will search for cloning AND sheep as well as cloning AND human

If you do not use the (parentheses) and search using the following cloning AND sheep OR human, your search will be processed as:

  • cloning AND sheep as one search
  • OR human as a secondary search
    • This means that your search results containing human would not be linked in any way to cloning.

Tweak your search


You can narrow your search results in databases by filtering the appropriate fields. For example clicking the Full Text Online option will show you just the items which you can access online directly through Primo.

You're telling the catalogue or database exactly what you want to be displayed.

Other examples to filter your results:

  • year (for up-to-date research)
  • type (e.g. article or book)
  • subject (for relevance)
  • language 
  • online sources
Too many results Too few results
  • add another search term to narrow down the results
  • use filters
  • make your search terms broader
  • add more keywords

Phrase searching ".................."

Phrase searching helps you to limit your search as it is used to specify that your terms must appear next to each other, and in the order you specify.

Phrase searching is commonly achieved by surrounding your phrase with "quotation marks".  (Always check the database help screens, as some databases may use different symbols.)

For example, when your add the quotation marks to the following terms, the database searches for those exact terms in the order your specify and not anywhere in the item record.

"social media" 

"climate change"

"Welsh medium education"

"agricultural development"

"to be or not to be"

Using symbols (*) - truncation


Truncation is another search technique you can use to find different word endings based on the root of a word. Truncate simply means to shorten something. When you are searching using truncation as a search technique, you will shorten or remove the ending of a particular word and leave behind just the root of that particular word which is shared by multiple terms so that the database will look for all the variations. You will not have to type all the different variations of the term as the database will search this for you in one go, rather than you making several separate searches.

The  truncation symbol (*) retrieves any number of letters - useful to find different word endings based on the root of a word.

For example:

educat* will find and retrieve results containing educate, education, educational, educationalist.

agricultur* will find and retrieve results agriculture, agricultural, agriculturalist.

child*  will find and retrieve results child, childs, children, childrens, childhood, childish, childlike. 

Using symbols (?)


Wildcards are similar to truncation but they are used to substitute for a single letter or no letter in a word. They are useful for irregular plurals and for British/American English spellings. They broaden your search by including variant word spellings.

The question mark symbol is most commonly used. 

For example:

wom?n will search and find woman and women

behavio?r will search and find behaviour and behavior

model?ing will search and find modeling and modelling

organi?e will search and find organise and organize

Searching databases effectively video

Contacting Lloyd

Contact Lloyd, your Subject Librarian if you have a library query or would like to arrange a 1:1 online appointment via MS Teams:

Book an online appointment