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SHB POL104: Database search tips

Tips for better searching

A multi-disciplinary database, such as Academic Search Complete in EbscoHost, is a good source for topics that don't fall easily into a subject catagory.

In EbscoHost/ProQuest:

an asterisk ( * ) at the stem of a word will find all forms of the word: educat*= education, educable, educate.

Quotes around phrases (“xx yy”) will insure that your keywords are searched as a phrase; rather than individual words: "social work," not social and work.

Question marks (?) can be used as wild cards to replace an unknown letter or letters in a keyword.  This is especially helpful with spelling issues:  Einst??n = Einstein and Einstien
In ProQuest:

An asterisk can also be used as a wild card at the beginning, middle or end of the word.  *old = behold, foretold, mold; col*r= color or colour, bird*= birds, birding, birdbath, etc.

In LexisNexis Academic:

Use an exclamation point ( ! ) for stemming: educat!= education, educable, educate.

Use an asterisk ( * ) for wild cards: Einst**n = Einstein and Einstien


Adding an ampersand (& ) at the end of a word finds the singular and plural of the word:  cat? = cat and cats

An asterisk (*) acts as a multiple character wild card:  bird* = bird, birding, birdman, birds, and other words that start with bird

Question marks (?) act as single character wild cards: te?ts = the words tents, tests, texts

A number sign (#) finds all forms of the word: goose# = goose, geese, and gosling

When searching a database unfamiliar to you, check the the "Help" section of the database to determine the search symbols for that database.

Searching 1-2-3

Searching a database in 3 easy steps: 

Step 1:  Brainstorm keywords (see "keywords" tab under Research). 

Step 2:  Constructing your search: 

Choose database(s).  Start most searches in Academic Search Complete.

On the search page, type your keywords in the boxes provided.  Remember, you are typing words or word phrases, not questions.

You will get more results if you do not select a search field.

Select the peer-reviewed limiter to limit your results to peer-reviewed or scholarly articles. 

Hit search.

Step 3:  Examine results:

Too many results?  Try applying a date limiter or using more narrow keywords to describe your topic.  For example, if you searched "medicine" try narrower terms like "nurse" or "doctor."  There may be search terms suggested on the left side of your results page or you can search terms using the THESAURUS or SUBJECT index that is often provided with the database.

Not enough results?  Use the same strategy as for too many results.  Try new keywords from your brainstorm list or those suggested by the database.

Found the perfect article?  First, see if it is offered in full text.  If not, click the "Find it" button to find the article in print or another database or order it through Inter-Library Loan.   Next, don't stop searching!  Look at the "subject terms" or "author supplied" terms to see if those terms match your keywords.  If not, try some searches using those terms.