Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

COMM 01 Cheek Feb. 2020: Searching in Databases

Break Down Your Research Question into Keywords

The words you type into the search box affect your search results. Not all authors use the same language to describe similar topics, so you will need to try a variety of searches.

  • Create a list of possible words that could appear in a book or article related to your topic of interest.
  • Come up with synonyms or related terms for those.
  • Stick to using 2-4 concepts at a time when searching.

Find Phrases with Quotation Marks

  • air quality
  • “college students”
  • "Central Valley"

Connect Keywords with Boolean Operators

Operator Example
AND joins dissimilar terms. It helps narrow your search. asthma AND children
OR joins similar terms. It helps broaden your search.

California OR Merced

Use AND & OR together, as well.


AND children

AND California OR Merced

These two searches are exactly the same; they are just arranged differently.

Search using one search box:

asthma AND children AND (California OR Merced)

Search using three search boxes:


AND children

AND California OR Merced

Search for Variations of Words with Truncation

The asterisk * is the most common truncation symbol.

  • child* = child, children, childhood, etc.

You do have to be careful with truncation. Sometimes you might get unexpected results.

  • minor*= minor, minors, minority, minorities, etc.


What are some strategies for reducing the rate of asthma in the San Joaquin Valley?

What are the three main ideas?


How to Choose Keywords

McMaster Libraries (2:42)

Online Research: Tips for Effective Search Strategies

Sarah Clark (3:04)

Take Advantage of Database Functionality

Just like Amazon has filters to limit your results (for example, by price), there are many ways you can limit your search results within a library database: 

  • date (e.g., 2003-2019)
  • type of source (e.g., news articles, magazine articles, academic journal articles, etc.)
    • many have a peer-reviewed limiter
  • full-text  (i.e., restricts results to articles you can read right away)
  • ...and more!

Examples of limiters from the database CINAHL