Database Search Strategies

This tutorial provides strategies for effective database searching, which is different than using a search engine.

  • Use keywords instead of full sentences or questions
    • Search engines allow you to type in a question or a phrase. In order to keep your results from being biased, databases cannot be searched this way because they do not want to guess what you are looking for. It is best to search using  key terms instead of a question or phrase.
  • Use multiple search boxes
    • Search engines commonly use one search box. In databases, it works better to use multiple search boxes—one box per keyword or search term representing a different part of your topic or question.
  • Use quotes around phrases
    • If you use a term that has multiple words in it, use quotation marks around the phrase to ensure that the database searches for the phrase instead of the individual words.
  • Use synonyms using “OR” or in multiple searches
    • It is a good idea to try multiple searches using different terms. You can expand your search by using synonyms in the same search box connected with the word “OR”. If you don’t know any synonyms for a search term, look at your search results. You can use keywords or search terms from the titles or abstracts of other sources.
  • Use the language of the database 
    • You can use keywords or search terms found in the subject terms or subject headings within the database. Databases use tags to group articles on similar topics. Using subject terms or headings  increases the amount of relevant and specific results.
  • Search for all forms of a keyword
    • By using an asterisk symbol after the root of a word, you can have the database search for all potential endings to a word at the same time. This way you don’t have to know the exact forms of words any authors used.
    • Example:
      vaccin* OR immuniz*
      This will search for and find articles that have the word vaccine, vaccines, vaccination, vaccinating, vaccinated, OR the word immunize, immunizing, or immunization