Searching Techniques

On this page:


  • Look for a Help, Guide, or Tips link to learn more about each database.
  • Check the subject headings for additional search terms.
  • Look at the resources cited at the end of a book chapter or journal article.
  • Try searching in databases of related subject areas.

Unlike Google, library databases work best with keywords, not sentences, so instead of “How does nutrition impact a person's health and weight?” use just the big idea words nutrition health weight in the search box.

  • Be aware of how the database is sorting the results: some sort by the newest, others by “relevance,” which is defined differently by each database.
  • Phrase searching will keep two or more words together to create a concept rather than treating them as separate search terms:
    • quantum theory” “multiple personality” “marine biology
  • Do you need peer-reviewed sources? Many databases let you limit your search to retrieve only peer-reviewed articles.

Too Many Results

If you're getting too many results, try limiting or narrowing your search:

  • Does the database allow you to limit your search terms to only the title field to retrieve more relevant results?
  • Does the database allow you to limit your results to a certain geographic area?
  • Does the database have a standardized list of subject headings that are used to tag all books or articles that are on the same subject?
  • In JSTOR, if you are getting too many "Review [untitled]" results, you can use the Advanced Search to specify retrieval of only articles rather than those book reviews.

Too Few Results

If you’re getting too few results, try expanding or broadening your search:

  • Does the database have a standardized list of subject headings that are used to tag all books or articles that are on the same subject? This may show you alternate search terms to try.
  • Try synonyms: woman, women, feminine, female
  • Truncation is used to find variations of a word ending:
    • Hawai* {note only one i} will find Hawaii, Hawaiʻi, Hawaii's, Hawaiʻi's, Hawaiian, Hawaiians, Hawaiiana
    • navigat* will find navigate, navigating, navigation, navigators
    • child* will find child, children, children’s, childrens’
  • Wildcards allow you to find variations within a word:
    • wom?n will find woman and women
    • organi?ation will find organization and organisation

Warning!
Different databases use different symbols for truncation and wildcards: you must check the Help area of each database to know what to use. For example, most databases use a * for truncation; some use ? for wildcard, while others use % instead.

Boolean Searching

Boolean Logic allows you to craft a more effective, efficient search to find books or articles on your topic faster. See our Boolean page to find out how Boolean logic operators AND, OR, and NOT can greatly improve your searching.