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Search Basics

Some helpful tips and tutorials for your search process.

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 (includes Academic Search Premier):


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 net.

What is a Library Database?

This video is from RMIT University in Australia. It succintly sums up what a library database is and how you can use one in your research.