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Visual Literacy: Image Search Strategies

A guide to help you locate and cite images & media, and understand copyright & fair use.

Boolean Operators


  • Use an asterisk * to search for multiple variations of a word with different endings, such as sculpt* for sculpture, sculptures, sculptor, sculptors, sculpting, etc.
  • Quotation marks can be used to search for a whole phrase, such as “fashion design”
  • Use parentheses around terms to set the order of operations. Words inside parentheses are read first: (butterflies OR moths) AND anatomy

Image Search Strategies

  • When searching for images, you are searching the text in the image record, which may include the title, artist, description, location, caption, or other information

  • Try using different keywords to describe what you are looking for, using literature on the topic to find more descriptive terms

  • Use different spellings of words, synonyms, singular/plural, and words with or without hyphens or other punctuation

  • Use in different languages when applicable, such as for place names

  • Image search engines will not search all digital images collections on the internet; some need to be searched individually

  • Keep track of where you find images to cite them later

  • When searching for books in the catalog, books with illustrations will say illustrations, illus., or ill. in the description:

Reverse Image Searches

Reverse image searches can be used to search by images rather than by keywords. They can be used for visual identification, to find where an image occurs on the internet, to find alternate sources of an image, or to figure out where an image came from.