Knowing what you are looking for and why you need it is key to being efficient! Here are strategies that may help:
1) Topic development. Your questions may start broad and then narrow until there is enough information to inform an opinion, experiment, or assignment. Or they may be too specific and turn up few search results. A good rule-of-thumb is that if you are getting too many results, add words. If you are getting too few results, use fewer words (or use alternative terms).
2) Are you trying to be comprehensive or not? Comprehensiveness is a high (but not unattainable) standard. If you really want to be comprehensive, implement tools that make that easier, such as a search tracking spreadsheet and a citation management system.
3) 'Follow the footnotes' of articles that are on-topic. This means that you search their bibliographies for pertinent books and articles.
4) A search tracking spreadsheet can help anyone who is tackling a large project. It's simple a spreadsheet (or other document) that records the date, the search term, the database, what filters were used, and how many results you turned up. This allows you to know what search term combinations might be working and to abandon poor search terms or databases with confidence. It also helps keep track of which MeSH search strings are useful!
5) Implement an citation organization system. My favorite is Zotero, as it is free, can easily link to websites (as well as import articles, etc.), and automatically signs you in as on-campus when you are not on campus.
6) Use the limiters and filters in the databases as they will help screen out items.
7) If you are doing clinical work, consider using the PICO approach, described here: https://hslguides.osu.edu/ot_pt/pico.
8) If you are doing a systematic review, take a look at this great guide here: https://hslguides.osu.edu/systematic_reviews and consider using the software Covidence, available here: https://hsl.osu.edu/databases/covidence.
Google's algorithm incudes a preference for the most popular pages and what people in your region are interested in, which usually isn't helpful for doing academic research. However, using the modifiers below can significantly improve your web searching results. NOTE: Some of these modifiers will also work in other databases, but you have to try individually.
|" "||search the characters exactly as written, e.g. "Ohio State University" instead of each word individually|
|*||a wildcard or placeholder, e.g. teen* searches for teen, teens, teenager, teenagers, etc.|
|-||use the dash (with no space after) to exclude unwanted terms or sites, e.g. -.com removes all sites ending in .com|
|..||number range (no space), e.g. 2000..2020 searches that range, 2000.. searches all numebrs after 2000, ..2020 searches all dates before 2020|
|OR||search one term or the other keyword, e.g. Speech OR hearing will search for all results of either term|
|site:||limits the search to that site domain, e.g. site:.edu limits searches to all .edu sites|
|filetype:||limits the search to specific file extensions, e.g. filetype:.xls for data searches|
|inurl:||searches for a term that appears in the URL|
|intitle:||searches for a term that appears in the title of a webpage|
|AROUND(#)||search for terms within # works of each other (proximity search), e.g. speech AROUND(10) hearing, searches for both terms within 10 words of each other|
While setting up alert services can open you to tracking and spam in typical library databases, PubMed is the exception! Because PubMed is a government-sponsored database, they don't use your personal information for marketing purposes. The video below explains how to save searches and set up alerts!