Use Boolean operators AND, OR, NOT
“AND” is the most often used, and is used to search two or more unrelated concepts. “poverty and crime” tells a database to find results that have both of those terms.
OR increases your results. “California or San
Francisco” will retrieve results with either one or both terms in it,
so you could return articles on California or articles on San
Francisco. OR is helpful is use when you’re searching synonyms.
NOT is used to exclude a word or words from your results. “Venus not planet” would return results with the term “Venus” in it, but exclude those with “Planet.” This is helpful if a word has more than one meaning.
databases offer this search feature, although the symbol used for
truncation varies. The most common symbol is *, although ! and $ are
also used. A truncation symbol placed at the end or middle of a term
will retrieve variations of that word. For example, “child*” will
return hits on child, child’s, childhood, children, etc. The search
“wom*n” might retrieve woman or women.
Limit your results
databases allow you to limit your search results to certain elements.
For examples, you can limit to articles published during a certain time
period, in a specific language, to full-text articles only, etc.
Keyword vs. Subject (controlled vocabulary) Searching
searching allows you to enter any word or string of words. The database
will search for all occurrences of the word(s) in citations, abstracts,
and depending on the availability, full-text.
searching can be a good way to start a search, but be warned that you
may get some results that aren’t on your topic. For example, if you
were searching for information on American Indians of the Great Plains
and you entered “American Indians”, you would retrieve information on
Native Americans in North, South, and Central America.
to get around this problem is to use some type of controlled vocabulary
(subject headings or descriptors) that the database uses, rather than
keywords. The Library of Congress Subject Headings is the controlled
vocabulary used in Ignacio, the library’s online catalog, but
other databases may use their own set of controlled vocabulary.
Browsing Ignacio’s subject heading index would tell you that “Indians
of North America” is the term used for native peoples in North America.
databases have a thesaurus you can search for controlled vocabulary.
For example, if you search in the thesaurus for the term “flu” in the
nursing database, CINHAL, you would be instructed to use the term
“See” and “See also” references
databases include “see” references, which let you know you’re not using
the proper search term used in the database and point you to the
correct term. Sometimes you’ll be given “see also” references which let
you know the term you’re using is fine, but suggest other useful
allow proximity searching. Proximity searching allows you to designate
the number of terms that can be between your search terms, thus perhaps
returning more relevant results. While “poverty and crime”
would find documents that have both these terms anywhere in the record,
using proximity operators requires that the terms be within a certain
distance of each other. For example, “poverty w/3 crime” would require
the database to return items with poverty within three words of crime.
The exact symbol used for proximity searching depends on the database.
Adapted with permission from Madison Area Technical College Library.