Common search strategies
When searching the database, you can use different search strategies to control how the database interprets your search query. Remember, all search strategies do not work everywhere. To be sure of what works in a particular database, you need to look in the database help section.
If the words you search with must have a specific order, you can add quotation marks ( "...") around them, such as "World War II". You search the words as a phrase, and they should be exactly in that order. If you search without the quotation marks, World can be placed in one part of the text and War in another part.
Different variants of a word
A word can have different endings. To find all variations of the word, you can add an asterisk (*) after the word. This is called truncation. Example: teach* will return all words beginning with teach, such as teach, teaches, teacher, teachers, teaching. If you do not use truncation, you will only find results with the exact word you searched for. For example, if you search for teach you will miss any results containing the words teaching and teachers.
Combine your search terms
You can use the Boolean operators AND, OR and NOT to combine your search terms in different ways.
- AND is used when you want all the search terms to be included in the results. It therefore reduces the number of hits. For example, a search of television AND movies, will give you results where both television and movies are in each result.
- OR increases the number of results you receive and is best used to combine synonyms in order to make your results more comprehensive. For example, if you search for television OR movies, you will get results that have either the terms television or movies in them.
- NOT reduces the number of results you receive by excluding a search term. A search for television NOT movies will only return hits that have the term television in them and removes those that mention movies.
Boolean operators allow you to make complex searches, in which case, you will need to use parentheses (...) that will control how the search is to be interpreted. The text in the parentheses will be combined first and then the whole equation will be read from left to right. For example, if you search for (children AND television) NOT movies, your search will return results with the terms children and television, and exclude those that contain the term movies.
In some databases you can use a list of controlled keywords. It has been decided which words to use for a certain concept and that word is used to tag articles and other materials. The controlled keywords can be used in order to find all the materials in a database that are related with a subject area. If the database uses controlled keywords you will find them under headings such as thesarus, subject, keywords, headings and index.
When you have found an article in your search results that is relevant, you can look in its reference list. Here, you will find sources and references that are also relevant. In citation databases, such as Scopus and Web of Science, you can also see who has referred to the source.
In most databases you can choose to narrow your search to e.g. publication date, language and type of material. It may be useful in order to reduce the number of hits and find the most relevant ones.
There is usually an advanced search function in databases where you can narrow your search to a particular field and choose to search, for example, only by title or author.
A useful delimiter when seeking scientific material is to choose "peer reviewed" or "peer reviewed journals." Then you should only find materials that are scientifically examined. However, you must check for yourself that it is true.
Adjust your search
It is important to remember that information searching is a process. You may need to change the database, change your keywords or combine them together in different ways to get a good result.
Too few hits
If you get too few hits or the wrong kind of hits when you search, you may need to change your keywords. It may be helpful to use a more general term for what you want to find. You can also use truncation on the keywords or search with several synonyms using OR, so you do not miss out on different variations of the word. Also check that all words are spelled correctly.
Too many hits
If you get too many hits, try to use more specific words in your search. You can also add keywords, narrow your search with filters or use the NOT operator to exclude hits.
Documenting your search
It may be helpful to document your search to be able to recreate it or continue to work with it at a later time. Many databases have a feature called Search history. There you can see the searches you have made and save it to your computer.