General Best Practices
General databases (e.g. Academic Search Premier, JSTOR, or ProQuest Research Library) are good for initial research and interdisciplinary research, but will yield more "noise" than specialized databases (e.g. PsychInfo, Communication & Mass Media Complete, or ABI/Inform (Business & Management)
Experimentation with various search options, as well as broader and narrower keywords, will help you get a read on the scope of the database or catalog. You may find that the resource is simply too limited for your research topic, or that the resource is a good size but that your keyword choices need work.
Take advantage of the limits that many catalogs and databases offer in order to find "prime cuts" of your search results. For example, you can play with results that have only been published in the last five years, or conduct a second search "within these search results" to better understand the information you have retrieved.
Good examples of keywords to look for are names of important people or organizations within your research area, important events or dates that relate to your specific topic, industry lingo or insider synonyms for ideas within or around topic, and related terms that frequently arise in combination to your idea.
Advanced Best Practices
Using boolean connectors (e.g. AND, OR, and NOT) is a key skill for initial search refinement. Wildcards, such as "*" and "?" can be used at the end of a string of letters in order to search on word variations. For instance, a search for INNOVAT* will catch results that include the word INNOVATION as well as words like INNOVATING and INNOVATOR. Other advanced search tools include the use of quotes ("") to find exact phrases.
Controlled vocabulary are similar to tags -- they are keywords that have been associated with a particular item, except here they are selected by information professionals and not general users ... thus, "controlled." By utilizing controlled vocabulary in your searches in addition to, or in place of, your typical keywords, you will discover that your search results may be more on-topic. For instance, try going to an item record and writing down one of the "SUBJECT TERMS" associated with the book or article. By searching on this controlled term, you are taking advantage of the way the catalog or database has officially organized its information.