Database Search Strategies

The skills that are used in search engines are different than the skills needed for databases. Here are some strategies for effective database searching.

Database Search Strategies

  • Use keywords instead of full sentences or questions
    • Because of how search engines work, you can type in a question or a phrase and get good results. In efforts to keep your results from being biased, databases do not guess which search terms are the most important to you nor which type of sources you want to see. Because of this, it is best to pick out key terms to search instead of a question or phrase.


  • Use multiple search boxes
    • Search engines commonly use one search box. In databases, it often works better to use multiple search boxes, one box per key word 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 it that way.


  • Use synonyms in multiple searches or use “OR”
    • If you are having trouble finding sources on your topic, it is a good idea to try multiple searches using different terms. Or you could 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 key words or search terms from the titles or abstracts of other sources.


  • Use the language the database uses
    • You can also use key words or search terms you find in the subject terms or subject headings the database uses. This is sort of like talking to the database in it’s own language and how it tags or groups articles on similar topics. Often, this trick will increase 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