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ED 808 Academic Research and Publishing

Database Search Tips

Need to find scholarly articles written on your topic but not sure how to start?  To be successful in your research process you need to create quality searches in the correct resources.  This can be a difficult and somewhat overwhelming process. This blog entry will help you transform your Google search into a potential database search.

The way that you search within an article database is different than how you might search on Google.  If you try to search for your topic as sentence in the database, like you might on Google, you will have a hard time finding relevant results.  Instead, you need to break down your topic into the most important elements to then create a search string. Before jumping into your research you should spend a few minutes brainstorming keywords to help form search strings about your topic.  You can think of keywords as how you might “tag” your topic.


  1. Google Search: What are the pros and cons of genetic cloning?
  2. Keywords: benefit, advantages, pros, negative, disadvantage, harm, genetic cloning, human cloning, clone, genetics.

Now that you have thought about some terms that might be in articles about your desired subject the trick is to create search strings that incorporate those keywords as well as the rules databases use to run their search algorithms.

Databases use search algorithms to mine thru the great amount of information the databases have. Therefore, it is important to use the search syntax or searching rules that will provide you with the best results.  This means you need to use the Boolean operators of: AND, OR, NOT to create search strings using your keywords.

  • AND
    • Tells the database to return results that include both the keywords.
    • Usually used to link different aspects of your research question together to find both concepts in the set of returned results.
    • Narrows your results.
    • Ex. “climate change” and pollution finds all articles that have both terms, so only articles that have both “climate change” and pollution.
  • OR
    • Tells the database to return results that include either of the keywords.
    • Usually used to link synonymous terms or concepts.
    • Expands your results.
    • Ex. “global warming” or “greenhouse effect” finds all articles with either term, so all articles with “global warming” and all articles with “greenhouse effect”.
  • NOT
    • Tells the database to return results that do not include a certain keyword.
    • Usually used to get rid of results that contain certain element of research topic.
    • Narrows your results
    • Ex. “Mexico” Not “New Mexico”- this will find all results with Mexico but no results that include the term “New Mexico”

Other Advanced Search Techniques:

  • Using Quotations
    • Requires keywords to be searched as a phrase.
    • Ex. Finds “Global warming” instead of the default AND between keywords: Global AND warming
  • Using Parenthesis
    • Parenthesis allow you to create more complex search strings.
    • Especially useful when using OR operator in between similar concepts.
    • Ex. (ethics or morality) and cloning- Searches for articles with either ethics or morality AND the keyword cloning.
  • Using Truncation
    • Truncation, also called stemming, is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings.
    • To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end.
    • Truncation symbols may vary by database; common symbols include: *, !, ?, or #
    • Examples:
      child* = child, childs, children, childrens, childhood
      genetic* = genetic, genetics, genetically

Putting it All Together:

Example 1. Topic: You are writing a paper looking at the movement for human rights in China.

  • Google Search: What is the current status of human rights in China?
  • Keywords: human rights, civil rights, political rights, political freedom, social freedom, China, The People’s Republic of China.
  • Potential Database Search: (“human right*” or “civil right*”) and Chin*

Example 2.  You are writing a persuasive pro/con paper on the issue of corporate farming and animal rights.

  • Google Search: What is a corporate farm and how are animal rights affected?
  • Keywords: factory farm, corporate farm, animal rights, animal welfare
  • Potential Database Search: (“animal right*” or “animal welfare”) and (“factory farm*” or “corporate farm*”).

Next Steps:

The last piece of the puzzle is finding the correct database to perform these searches.  Check out the research guide in the subject area you are working within to get a list of preferred databases for that topic. These would be listed under the Article tab.  The Reference Desk and subject specialty Librarians are also great resources to ask if you are stuck on which database to search in on your topic!  Now that you understand the basics of search strategy, you will be much more successful in finding your desired results!