Library Resources

Database Search Tips

General Information

Here are some tips, guides and tutorials which may be useful when you are doing research using the library’s resources.

Database Selection

  • Begin your search by reading the various database descriptions to find out which database deals with your subject. Several of the library’s databases cover a wide range of topics.  They include eLibrary, Academic Search Premier, Academic OneFile, MasterFILE Premier and Wilson's Omni File Full Text Select
  • Many databases offer tips on how to use the database and how to conduct a search.  At the database home page look for links which say Help and/or Search Tips.
  • Tutorials are available for the EBSCOhost databases and the Wilson databases by clicking on the Help button.

Keyword Search

  • Keywords are words that can appear anywhere in an article including the title or somewhere in the article text.   Try to think of the keywords that best describe and relate to your topic.
  • A keyword search is the default search in most databases.
  • Make sure terms are spelled correctly and that you use other terms that might also apply to, or describe your topic.  For example if you want to find articles about cars, you should also use the term automobiles.
  • If you aren’t sure about what keywords to use, consider reading an encyclopedia article on your topic to get ideas for other keywords.
  • Ask the library staff or your instructor for suggestions on keywords to use. 

Combining Keywords

  • Most databases allow you to combine two or more keywords in a search using the Boolean operators AND,OR, NOT.  Using Boolean operators will help you to narrow or broaden your search.
  • AND links terms together and tells that database that it should find records that have both terms.  For example cars AND trucks will find articles that mention both cars and trucks, but not articles  that mention only cars or mention only trucks..
  • OR will broaden your search and tell the database to find article mentioning either keyword or both keywords.  Cars OR trucks will find articles mentioning cars, articles mentioning trucks or article mentioning both cars and trucks.
  • NOT tells that database to eliminate a word from the search.  For example cars Not railroad will find articles that deal with cars, but not railroad cars. 
Boolean Operator Use Example Results
AND Focus or narrow a search Computers and cars Will retrieve only articles that include the words computers and cars.
OR Expand or broaden a search Cars or automobiles Will retrieve articles that include either car or automobile or may include both words.
NOT Narrow a search by excluding specific terms. Cars not trucks Will retrieve articles that include the word cars, but not the word trucks.

Truncation of Keywords

  • Truncation symbols are like wildcards. They can stand for a one letter or several letters in the middle or end of a search term. Use them to search for words that have the same stem, but different endings or if you are unsure how to spell a word.   Common truncation symbols are  $, ? and *
  • A keyword search for Child? can retrieve articles were the word child, child’s children, childcare, childhood etc appears.
  • A keyword search for wom$n can retrieve articles with the word woman or women.

Subject Searches

  • Subject searches are different from keyword searches because they use something called a controlled vocabulary.  A subject search looks for standard or predetermined terms in database records.  For example – a database may use the subject term automobiles as subject heading rather than the term cars.  Even though an article used the term car rather than automobile, it would be indexed under automobile.
  • Subject or topic lists are available in several databases – in eLibrary click on the “Topics” tab.  In CQ Researcher click  “Browse by Topic”.  Click on “Need a Research Topic?” in Issues & Controversies.  In Lit Finder click on “By Subject” and in Omni File Full Text Select click on “Browse” or “Thesaurus.”

Limiting a Search

  • Many databases allow you to limit your search to a specific type of article (peer reviewed or refereed for example), articles published within a certain time frame, articles with images or graphics, or articles from a particular journal.
  • When searching a database look for the options listed under LIMITERS to determine which options are available.    For example in Academic Search Premier you may limit your search on hybrid automobiles to full text, peer reviewed and articles with images.  This means your search will find only articles where the complete text is available in the database, all the articles will be from peer reviewed journals and all the articles must have some type of graphic image such as a photo of a hybrid car. 

Field Searching

  • All records in article databases include standardized parts called fields.  These standardized fields typically include: title, author, date, keywords and subject. If you are doing a search for a particular article and know the author’s name, the article title or the name and date of the journal article you can do a field search.
  • In most databases you will need to be in the advanced search mode to do a field search.
  • Look for the field which is searchable, in addition to author, title and journal name you may be able to search for a company name, volume and issue numbers.

Google Search Tips

  • Use Google search tips to refine your search and get better results.

More Search Tips

  • The library exists for the student and faculty.  NEVER hesitate to ask any member of the library staff for help in finding the information you need.
  • Call the library.