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IDH 2911 Honors Research Process (Professor Janet Naughton): Search Strategies

Search Strategies for Databases

General Instructions

  • Databases have their own unique way of being searched and their own search engines, so become familiar with the database by reading their help section and tutorials.
  • Use the advanced search option if you want to narrow down the results.
  • Make a list of word(s) that describe your topic using synonyms.
  • From the list you can use these keywords to start your search.
  • Keywords are descriptive words that can be found in the title of an article, authorsubjectabstract, and even in the text of an article.
  • Usually, the more often the keyword appears in the article, the higher the relevancy.
  • Once you find an article that is relevant, look for the subject headings within the article.
  • Many databases use a controlled vocabulary which are subjects assigned to an article.  These subject headings are usually clickable and are used to find other articles on the same subject.
  • Most databases have limiters that can make the search more relevant, like: date, countrypeer-reviewed articlemagazines, reviews, etc.
  • Many databases have other features that can be used to help you find articles.  Some of these are: search within resultssearch history, other related searchable subjects and related articles.

Specific Instruction


  • Truncation allows you to find many different variations of a word. 
  • Truncation is usually done by using the * sign at the end of a partial word to look for all the words that have the same beginning.  For instance, childwould search for childchildrenchildhoodwom* would search for women or woman
  • Truncation or symbols used within the word is called a wildcard. It is used to represent a letter. Symbols can include the *,#, $, and ?. For instance, behavio#r would search behavior or behavior.

Boolean Search (Combining words)

  • Most databases allow you to use the Boolean operators and, not, or to narrow or broaden your topic.
  • The term and narrows your result by telling the system that both words have to be there.  For instance, the search death penalty and statistics will be searching for an article that has both terms. The relevance of the article depends on how close these words are to each other and how many times they appear in the text. Nowadays most databases automatically include the word and between terms when searching.
  • The term or broadens your search to include either word. A good way to use this is by using 2 synonyms with or.   For instance, death penalty or capital punishment is going to find either one of the terms.
  • The term not eliminates words that you don’t want the system to search but it will always search for the first word.  For instance, high school not elementary will eliminate any article that has elementary as a term.

Phrase Searching

  • Some databases search words that are together as phrases but many search them as separate words like if they had the word and in between.
  • To make sure words are searched as a phrase not as 2 separate words put them in quotes.  For instance, if you write construction engineering in the search box most of the time the system is going to look for both words anywhere in the work.  But if you search for “construction engineering” then you will be looking for that career as a phrase.
  • In the advanced search you can usually search phrases without having to put them in quotes.