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Writing & Citing   Tags: apa, reference, research  

Last Updated: Jun 12, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Search Strategies Print Page

Quick Tips & Shortcuts for Database Searching


Boolean Operators Explained

Using Boolean Operators: AND, OR, NOT

AND – use this to narrow your search results. Typing in the terms anorexia AND bulimia will retrieve articles that have both of those terms.

OR – use this to expand your search results. Typing in cats OR dogs will retrieve articles that have at least one of the terms. Also, use this if there might be different ways to enter a term: IBM OR “International Business Machines” or Canine OR Dog

NOT - Use this to exclude certain terms. For example drugs NOT abuse will yield results that include drug information but not drug abuse information.

Other Tips:

asterisk (*) - use the asterisk to find all forms of a search term. For example the search term book* will find books, booked, booker, booking, bookkeeper etc..

quotation marks – use quotation marks to search for exact phrase. For example the database will recognize “study skills” as words linked together instead of apart.



Google Tips & Tricks

Your keywords should focus on the basic idea of what you’re searching for, in words that authors would use to write about it.

For instance, let’s say your teacher asked you, “What happens when the dentist puts you to sleep so he can pull your teeth?” Would you do an internet search for [sleep pull teeth dentist]? Probably not. Instead, [sedatives dentistry tooth extraction] would be a better string of search words.

Articles don’t matter… unless….

In general, articles like a, an and the don’t matter to a search engine. For instance, Google generally ignores these, unless one is used to distinguish one phrase from another. For instance, if you search for only [who], the World Health Organization will be at the top of your results list. If you search for [the who], the band from the 1970’s, The Who, will be at the top.

Word order DOES matter.

Searching for [blue sky] will get you different results than searching for [sky blue]. Try it!

Capitalizations DO NOT matter.

Whether you search for [Barbie Doll] or [barbie doll], you will get the same results.

Special characters don’t matter… unless…

Some special characters that are used in proper names, such as C++, are fine; also, you can use special characters for making calculations.

·         Punctuation that may matter: $, #, and +

·         Punctuation that search engines ignore: ¶, £, €, ©, ®, ÷, §, %, (), @, ?, !

 Use Ctrl+F (or Command+F on a Mac) to find what you need inside a web page.

Let’s say you found a great web page or article, but it’s many pages long and you only need to find one fact. Pressing the Ctrl key and the F key at the same time opens up a “Find” window so you can search for a particular keyword within the page you are on.


Strategize Your Search

Searching a database is not like searching on Google! Here are some helpful videos and tips on effective searching.

However, if you do use Google, or another search engine, make sure you know how to evaluate your sources for currency, reliability, authority, and purpose.


How To Use a Database Without Tearing Your Hair Out


Using Boolean Operators


Searching by Subject

What is the difference between a keyword and a subject heading?

Let's say you're in the grocery store, and you're there to get noodles of some kind. Spaghetti is the most common, so you look for a sign that says "spaghetti," but you can't find it. Why can't you find that sign? Because the sign you want says "Pasta" and includes not only spaghetti, but manicotti, macaroni, lasagna, penne, orzo and more.

In this example, Spaghetti is a keyword. Pasta is a subject heading.

If you were to search for spaghetti as a keyword, you might find yourself looking at Spaghetti Westerns on your search screen. Is that what you wanted to find?

Searching for pasta as a subject heading would include the type of spaghetti you want, as well as other types of pasta.

Library Databases are organized by subject heading. Google is not!

Search smart!

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