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ACHIEVE - Advancing Community Health and Individual leadership through a noVel Educational program

Database Search Techniques

Use Advanced Search (when available)

The advanced or guided search option will provide you with much more flexibility in designing your search. It allows you to select specific fields to search, such as author or title, and will often provide help constructing your search.

Use Boolean Operators

The Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT can help you combine concepts, as well as helping you to expand or narrow your search.

  • AND Narrows Your Search
    Joining search terms with AND looks for results which must include all of your keywords: alcoholism AND schizophrenia
  • OR Broadens Your Search
    Joining search terms with OR broadens your search and can be used with synonyms: Latino OR Hispanic
  • NOT Limits Your Search
    Joining search terms with NOT excludes keywords from your search: pets NOT cats

Use Subjects Terms or Descriptors

If you find an article on the topic you are interested in, look at the subject terms or descriptors that are listed in the record for the item. These terms are standard within the database, and often can help you locate more articles on that topic.

For example, if you are looking for articles on African Americans in Chicago politics and enter "African Americans" as a search term, you will likely get some results. But looking at the subject terms within some of the records, you may notice that the database uses the descirptor "blacks".  Using that as a subject/descriptor may expand the number of search results.

Some databases, such as APAPsycNet or Medline, will have a thesaurus feature built in the database, which will point you to the best subject terms. Take advantage of these features when they are available.

Use Limits

Most databases provide an option to limit your search. These limits can include language, type of resource, publication date, and full text only. If you find yourself getting too many hits, or would like to eliminate certain types of records, set your limits and try again.

Use Truncation and Wildcards When Applicable

Most databases provide an option to use wildcards or truncation. This will help you search variations of words that may be important for your search.

  • wom?n finds woman or women
  • philosoph* finds philosopher, philosophers, philosophy...

These symbols can vary from database to database, so check the "Help" or "Search Tips" options in the database you are searching to find the best one for your needs.

Subject Specialist

Deb Werner's picture
Deb Werner
Librarian for Science Instruction & Outreach and Biomedical Reference Librarian
John Crerar Library
Room 154