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Search Tips & Database Help

Trying to start that research paper or project? Need sources or ideas? Using the correct databases, catalogs, reference works or web sites can make the job so much easier. Learning to use each of these tools to the best advantage makes the job even easier and your paper so much better.

  • Brainstorm for KEYWORDS to use in your search. Make a list of all these keywords and phrases. Use them in different combinations when searching. Use references in your textbook, or find a useful encyclopedia entry that contains a bibliography. (Really Hot Tip: Try Encyclopedia Britannica Online.) Taking time to locate basic info on your question will help you as you identify and make decisions down the line about sources that could be useful.

  • Start with the right DATABASE
  • The Subject pages are designed to help you choose the best sources for your subject area.

    If you prefer to pick a single database you can choose from the Alphabetical listing.

  • Focus your search on words in specific FIELDS in the database record
  • There are many ways to be specific in searching a database. Each database may have it's own set. Use the "help" when using a new database to learn about it.

    Use the advanced search when possible. Do "precision searching" in specific fields using the controlled vocabulary relative to your subject area.

  • Use LIMIT to weed out less-than-useful records.

    Find out how to limit your search to a range of years, English language records, journal articles, etc. This again gives you a more precise set of records to look through. Most databases have a HELP link which will tell you the tricks to using it. For more information see the HELP.

  • Combine Search words by using OPERATORS
  • Use Boolean search operators AND, OR, NOT

    And - combines search terms so that each search result contains all of the terms. For example, education and technology finds articles that contain both terms.

    Or - combines search terms so that each search result contains at least one of the terms. For example, education or technology finds results that contain either term.

    Not - excludes terms so that each search result does not contain any of the terms that follow it. For example, education not technology finds results that contain the term education but not the term technology.

    Put " " around the words you wish to use as a whole phrase.

  • Use truncation and/or wildcard symbols:
  • An * at the end of a the root part of a word will usually look for all endings, ie: stop* will retrieve stop, stopping, stopped, stopper.

    ? within a word to look for different spellings, ie: ne?t to find all citations containing neatnest or next.

    The # will look for an alternate spelling where the word may contain an extra character, ie: colo#r will also retrieve colour.

    Most databases now have a way to set up folders, RSS feeds or exporting features. These are all very helpful especially when working on an extended project or if you only have small increments of time to do your searching in.

Your professor may also have suggestions for sources you should use - never overlook this expert advice.