When searching databases, the goal is to find a small number (e.g. 10-50) of articles relevant to your topic. Here are some tips for improving your search results:
- Most databases allow you to choose a date range, so you can limit the search to recently-published articles only.
- Most allow you to choose English articles only, which can further reduce your results.
- Many also allow you to limit your results to peer-reviewed journals, which contain the highest-quality scholarly articles.
- In keyword searching, a truncation symbol (usually *) expands your search by including various forms of a root word, e.g. adolescen* retrieves adolescent, adolescents, and adolescence. For more information, see Boolean Searching and Truncation.
- Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) serve to either narrow or expand your search: OR expands it by including synonyms or related terms (e.g. adolescen* OR teen*); AND narrows it by finding the subset of articles that contain both search terms you want (exercise AND obesity); NOT narrows your search by eliminating articles that contain a specific term you do not want (child abuse NOT neglect). An easy way to remember the difference is the rhyme OR gives you MORE, while the other two operators give you less (although they may be better results).
Boolean operators are words (or, and, not) used to connect search terms to expand (or) or narrow (and, not) a search within a database to locate relevant information. Boolean operators are also called logical operators or connectors.
It is helpful to diagram the effects of these operators:
women or females
|Or retrieves records that contain any of the search terms. It expands the search. Therefore, use "or" in between terms that have the same meaning (synonyms) or equal value to the search.|
women and media
|And retrieves records that contain all of the search terms. It narrows or limits the search. Therefore, use "and" in between terms that are required to make the search specific.|
image not weight
|Not eliminates records that contain a search term. It narrows or limits the search. Therefore, use "not" in front of a term to ensure that the search will not include that term. Warning: Some databases use "and not" instead of "not." Check the database help screen.|
- Most databases allow for a symbol to be used at the end of a word to retrieve variant endings of that word. This is known as truncation.
- Using truncation will broaden your search. For example,
bank* will retrieve: bank or banks or banking or banker or bankruptcy, etc.
- Databases and Internet search engines use different symbols to truncate. In general, most of the Library's databases use the asterisk (*) ; however, the exclamation point (!) is used in LexisNexis. Check the database help screen to find the correct truncation symbol.
- Be careful using truncation. Truncating after too few letters will retrieve terms that are not relevant. For example:
cat* will also retrieve cataclysm, catacomb, catalepsy, catalog, etc.
It's best to use the boolean operator "or" in these instances (cat or cats).