The material on this page will help you to refine your searching techniques by reviewing how databases work, basic keyword searching using the Boolean connectors AND, OR, and NOT, and the use of subject headings and subject terms to refine searches.
What do your search terms match up against in a keyword search? Why is searching the library catalog or an article database different than searching Google?
Covers a number of search techniques that improve your keyword searching, starting with the connectors And, Or, and Not, which most databases are programmed to recognize.
These search strategies were introduced in English 101 and work well in the library catalog and most databases. Some may also work with internet search engines. Google accepts phrases in quotes, for example. The logic of the Boolean connectors also underlies the choices in Google's Advanced Search.
Boolean logic - use AND, OR, NOT (sometimes AND NOT) to connect two or more search terms:
Phrases in Quotes - most databases and web search engines allow you to search for exact phrases by placing them in quotes:
Truncation - the library catalog and most databases use special characters to make searching easier in certain situations. Check the help screens in the catalog or database you are using to see what the special characters are for that resource.
Nesting - use parentheses to sort out the elements of a more complex Boolean search phrase, especially when you may want to search for more than one related term for one element of your phrase:
The library catalog and most subscription databases have a wonderful tool for finding the most relevant books and articles for your topic. Subject Headings in the library catalog and Subject Terms (sometimes called descriptors) in databases are terms describing the subject of an item that are chosen from a pre-existing list when a book is cataloged for the library or an article indexed for a database. This means that someone has actually examined the book or article and chosen one or more standard subject headings or terms that best describe it. And that makes subject headings and terms a very good way to find additonal books and articles on your topic--including those likely to be most relevant. In the library catalog, subject headings are found in the record of a book or video (just click on the title in the results list) and are hyperlinked to lead you to other items sharing that heading. In article databases, subject terms from articles in the results list are often collected in a Subject or Subject Thesaurus Terms category on the left or right side of the results. You can usually select one or more terms and update your results.