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Boolean Operators

Boolean Operators (AND, OR, NOT):

  • Use AND to narrow your search. For example, using "adolesence AND anxiety" will find articles with both terms, giving your more specific results.
  • Use OR to broaden your results, such as using "adolesence OR teen" will find articles with either term, giving you more results.
  • Use NOT to filter out results with terms you don't need. For example "adolescence NOT child" will filter out articles with the term "child".

Truncation (*): The "*" replaces any number of characters and will find all forms of a word root. For example, "therap*" will find therapies, therapies, therapist, therapists, theraputic, therapeutically, etc.

Wildcard (#): The "#" replaces extra charactors that may appear in alternative spellings. For example, "colo#r" finds both color and colour.

Wildcard (?): The "?" replaces one character. For example, "ne?t" finds neat, nest, or next, but will not find not.

Phrase ("  "): Enclosing two or more words in quotation marks "   " tells the database to look for those words in that exact order, without other words in between.  Most, but not all, databases recognize this command.

Search Basics for Academic Databases

Searching academic databases is a bit different from using Google or a search engine. Here are few tricks and tips.

Brainstorm First!
Let's say, you're researching the way women talk to their doctors. This is great topic, but if you just type the phrase -- "The way women talk to their doctors" -- into an academic database, you'll get poor results. Instead, you need to brainstorm key terms and think of solid nouns that describe your topic.


Create Specific Terms and Use Synonyms
Here are ways you can break down this topic:

  • Women, female, gender
  • Communication, conversation, dialogue
  • Doctors, medical professionals, health care providers


Use Boolean Operators
Boolean Operators are commands that tell the database how to look up your terms. See the column to the left for explanations on how to use them.

Here's an example of a good search, built with solid search terms and Boolean operators:


Subject Terms are Your Friends

When you find a good article, look at the subject terms (also called subject headings). These are tags or labels that an expert assigned to the article that sum up what it's about. Some databases also include author-supplied keywords. These terms are often linked and will lead to similar articles, providing you with even better results. 

Here's what subject terms look like in EBSCO databases:


Know Where Your Search Looks for Matches

Many databases start you on the Advanced Search page, with lots of boxes you can fill out.  Pay attention to what field your search is set to: the difference between the Keyword, Subject, and Title field will have a big impact on your results.

PsychINFO example:

Select a Field: default search setting, automatically searches the abstract, author, keywords, source, subjects, table of contents, title, and translated title.

KW Keywords: This option allows you to use natural language terms to describe a document's content. For example, typing "children's nightmares" and selecting "KW Keywords" will pull up articles about children suffering from nightmares, even if the articles use more professional language to describe the problem.

SU Subjects: PsycINFO assigns subjects to each article and publication, and the subjects are taken from the Thesaurus of Psychological Terms. (See our tab on the thesaurus for more info.) You can search for articles using subject terms, such as "obsessive compulsive disorder". If you're not finding good results on a subject search, refer to the thesaurus and see if the term has another name.

TI Title: Searches for the titles of articles (not journal titles). For example, typing "amygdala" and selecting "TI Title" will bring back results with "amygdala" in the title, such as "The role of the amygdala in human fear". If you know the complete title, you can type all the words in for a more exact search.