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Effective Searching

Unlike the Web, databases require us to be careful about our search terms.

What are Keywords?

Keywords are terms - words and phrases – used to search electronic databases, online catalogs, and the Web for information. To more easily identify keywords, frame your topic into a statement or question and then select the most important concepts. These are the terms you will use in your search.

Ex: Are prescription drugs for depression addictive?


Suggestion #1 It’s most effective to keep your database search simple, using up to two or three keywords or phrases. Searching is a process. Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t successful at first; try new keyword combinations.

Suggestion #2  We can’t always know exactly how the author has chosen to express their concept – so always think of synonyms – terms that mean the same, or almost the same, thing.

   Ex:    HIV vs AIDS  

            colleges vs universities vs higher education

Suggestion #3  If you are searching for an article in an online database, and your search produces too many results, you can easily reduce and focus your results list by:  adding or changing keywords to make your topic more specific, or add Limiters such as Date Range (Published Date From) or Scholarly/Peer-reviewed  journals

If you get too few results, consider reducing the number of search terms or limiters, or trying keywords that are broader in concept

Boolean Operators - link search terms with these to obtain specific results:

AND – includes all terms.  Narrows search results.

        Ex. drugs AND athletes. Results will include both terms, not just drugs or athletes alone

OR – includes any term.  Broadens search results.

         Ex.. colleges OR universities.  Useful when searching synonymous terms – saves having to do separate searches.

NOT – excludes terms.  Narrows search results.

        Ex. cirrhosis NOT alcohol. Will produce results about cirrhosis, but not alcohol-related cirrhosis.

Phrase Searching – use quotation marks to search your terms all together as a phrase.  (EBSCO databases assume phrase searching, but most do not.)

         Ex. “prescription drug” or “Madeleine Leininger” or “evidence-based practice”

Truncation – searches for a root word with varying endings.  Use the * or ? symbols, depending on the database.

          Ex.  diet* will result in: diet, diets, dieting, dietary, dietician, dieticians, etc.

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