Database Search Tips

Database Search Tips

The vast majority of library research these days involves searching article databases.  It is a very good thing to know how to do it well.

Truncation.Truncation is used to capture varying endings or spellings of the same word. ?,*,# and $ are commonly used "truncation symbols".
  • pregnan* (e.g Scotty, PubMed)
  •  skin colo$r (e.g Ovid Inspec)
Phrase Searching. Some databases allow you to enter your words as phrases.For some, it is the default. It is useful to assume it is, and use 'and' between keywords unless you are phrase searching.
  • "South Africa" (e.g Google)
  • south adj Africa

Limits. Most databases have limits of some sort, even Google.

  • year of publication, type of article, and language. 
Some databases, such as PubMed, have even more options. 

Controlled Vocabulary. Many library databases have set of standard subject terms assigned to each item by experts. Knowing these terms for your topics can be useful.  Look for them in the database thesaurus.

Getting to the articles. Links will sometimes guide you to the location of your item (online, in the library or elsewhere). For nearly all of our databases (and Google Scholar), click on.

Alerts. Once you have your search exactly right, set up an alert

EndNote. You might want to move your results into a database, like Endnote, so that you can easily keep track of your articles, and add them into bibliographies.

Guides. Get to know your favorite databases really well.  One good way is to use the onboard help system, another is to use one of our guides.

Last modified: 8/20/2014 11:22 PM by M. Potter

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