This guide is an introduction to the successful search techniques you need to find articles in any research database.
Databases are structured in similar ways and have common features. This means that if you can search one database effectively, then your skills are transferable to other databases.
Searching is very much a trial and error process. You will probably revise & refine your searches several times based on each search's results. Use the database's tools for refining your searches.
Browse this guide for more information about these tools and for more search tips.
Break your topic into concepts (subjects). These concepts will form the building blocks of your search strategy.
The search terms (keywords) you use are extremely important!
Databases look for the exact words and phrases you type in, so if the author uses a different word (synonym) to describe a concept, you will not see that article in your results.
For each of your concepts, identify alternative keywords.
Create a master list of alternative words for each of your concepts.
Use this list as you search the databases. In addition to synonyms, be creative and think of:
Here is the beginning of a list for our research question--
Does soft drink consumption increase the risk of obesity in children?
|Concept 1||Concept 2||Concept 3|
|Juvenile||Sugar-Sweetened Beverages||Body Mass Index|
Pick databases that matches the subject matter of your chosen topic.
Librarians are also great resources to ask if you are stuck on which database to search for your topic!
How you connect your search terms together can change the outcome of your search.
See the Boolean Operators tab for more information.
Explore the database and see what's there.
Remember, your initial seraches are a guess about how the author has described the topic in the title and abstract. You are trying to match your keywords to their words.
1. Run some exploratory searches in the database using different keywords from your list.
2. Browse your search results. In most databases, you will need to click on the title to read the abstract.
3. Look for relevant articles.
4. Look for subject headings. Most databases assign subject headings for each article. These indicate the main topics of the article. If there is an appropriate subject heading for one of your concepts use it to search instead of your keywords! For more information, click on the Subject Searching tab.
5. Revise, Revise, Revise. Initial searches can often be improved. Evaluate your results and then search again using alternative keywords or appropriate subject headings found in your initial results.
Setting Up the Search:
1. As a general rule, start with broad searches. Cast a wide net and explore your results. After you have determined the best keywords/subject headings, start to limit your search.
2. Most databases have multiple search boxes near the top of the page.
Here is an example of how to set up a keyword search using the our search example.
1. Type in your keywords.
First search box:
Second search box:
Please note: This term is searched as a phrase with quotes. See the Keyword Tips tab for more information about phrase searching as well as truncation.
2. Click the Search button.