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Research Guides

ENGR/HCDE 231: Introduction to Technical Writing - Fall 2018: Find Articles: How to Search

Databases Search Techniques

In the next section is a list of a few databases that will help you find articles on your topic.  But first learn how to search smarter and more efficiently with tips using Boolean Operators.

AND and OR and NOT are called Boolean Operators. Using them allows you to construct a more specific and efficient search which then will bring you more focused results. Want to know more about using Boolean Operators? 

To get started choose 2-3 keywords that describe your topic and combine them using the word 'AND'.  For example: "global warming AND sea level".

NOTE: If you have two words you want the database to find together in a certain order (called 'phrase searching'), make sure to enclose them in quotation marks.

Once you have some results, read some of the article abstracts and note some of the other terms or keywords used in those articles and use them to create new searches to see if you can find more focused articles.

Use AND to reduce the number of items found:

Unless you specify otherwise, most databases will assume the Boolean AND connector, which means that all words must be present for a particular record to be listed in the search results, but not necessarily as an exact phrase. In other words climate change should get the same results as climate and change. But "climate change" will be more focused and find (fewer) results than the other searches, but they will all include that phrase.

Use OR to combine synonymous or alternate terms and thus increase the number of items found:

It helps to think of synonyms for your keywords and combine them with an 'OR'-- for example: "flood control" AND (dams OR levees OR dikes).  To narrow your search, think of more specific terms for your keywords-- for example, "flood control AND artificial levees".

With just your imagination and well-chosen search terms, you can create complex, but very powerful, searches, using both AND and OR in a single search. Note the use of parentheses to group the terms connected by OR:

("global warming" or "climate change") and "sea level" finds only those items that have either the phrase global warming or the phrase climate change as well as the phrase sea level.

("global warming" or "climate change") and ("sea level" or "coastal flooding") finds those items that have at least one phrase from each group. Kind of a “mix and match” deal.

One last tip!! Don't forget to use the limiters provided by the database: you can limit by date, subject term, language, full-text online only, etc. These are normally visible on the left hand side of the search results page in database.