Tips on Searching with Databases

The databases are helpful search tools that sort through many publication records and allow the searcher to personalize and modify their searches to meet their research needs. All databases have unique interfaces, however they do operate with similar principles. Be sure to check out the databases help section where they provide search tips for browsing, viewing, saving, and organizing search results.

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Search Vocabulary


Words and phrases that describe a topic. Key terms from reference sources and other sources on the topic, during preliminary research. Tip: Use double quotation marks around a single and/or multiple words (“ ”) to search for exact word or phrases.


A word or phrase similar to, or meaning almost the same thing as a given word or phrase. Synonyms can help generate more accurate search results.

Controlled Vocabulary & Subject Headings

A set of words or phrases used by a database to categorize its topics. Controlled vocabulary or subject headings help retrieve accurate search results by the preferred language used by a database. Search for controlled vocabulary under the “Thesaurus” or “Index” links located on the main navigation toolbar of many databases.

Search Tools


Search settings within a database that allows searcher to refine the search by format, author, year, language, type of content, and topic. Some databases provide other options for limiters, including “peer reviewed”.

Boolean Operators: AND, OR, NOT


A search technique that finds different endings of a root word. Truncation symbols may vary for each database. Symbols my include: *, !, ?, or #. For instance, the search term “child*” will find child, childs, children, childrens, and childhood.

Wildcard Symbols

Symbols that allows one to search for terms that may have other spellings. Wildcard symbols may vary for each database. Wildcard characters  include: ?, #, $, and *. For instance, the search term “m?n” will find men and man.

Stop Words

Common words (intheabout, and or) that can increase search results. Some databases exclude them in the search results. To exclude them from the search, add double quotation marks (“ ”) around the phrase.

Proximity Operators

Allows searcher to locate one word within a certain distance of another. Not all databases provide this search type. The symbols generally used in this type of search are w “with(in) and n “near.”

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