Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Information Literacy Research Skill Building: Searching for Phrases Podcast

This guide contains information literacy instructional materials based on the ACRL Information Literacy Standards.

Searching For Phrases Podcast

Searching for Phrases

Many databases and indexes allow you to search for exact phrases. Phrase searching requires that your words appear immediately adjacent to one another, in the exact order you type them. It is an especially useful search technique when you are looking for information about a concept that is usually expressed as a phrase with more than one word. Examples of concepts that would be useful to search as phrases are "Spanish flu," "Hundred Years War," or "black market."

If your search terms appear in the database record, but are in a different order, or are separated by other words, then those records will not be retrieved as part of your search results. For example, if you search for the phrase "cancer treatment," but in the database record the phrase "treatment for cancer" is used, that record will not appear in your search results. For this reason, you should be selective when you choose to search for phrases, and realize that relevant information may be excluded from your search results.

Most of the library’s indexes and databases use quotation marks to command that the exact phrase is to be searched. You type in quote your phrase quote. Google and WorldCat also use quotation marks to denote a phrase.

Sometimes just typing the phrase itself is sufficient. But do not count on this. You can always read the help screens for the resource you are using to be sure you are typing in the search query appropriately.

For some databases you choose from their menu. You might choose PHRASE SEARCHING or SEARCH AS PHRASE or just click PHRASE to indicate the type of search you are doing.

In some cases the search screen will make it obvious which way to search for a phrase. If it does not, I tend to try my search with quotation marks. This is because so many databases use quotes to denote a phrase search. Then if I don’t get the results I want, I check the help page to see how that database or index does it.

Phrase searching in one of the most useful tools for searching large indexes and databases. You should definitely add it to your arsenal of search commands.

Good Searching
WSU Libraries, PO Box 645610, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-5610, 509-335-9671, Contact Us