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Research Guides

SEFS 512/ESRM 490C: Ecosystem Biogeochemistry and Earth's Critical Zone: Database Searching: The Basics

Research Question & Keywords

  • What is your research question?  (Be as specific as possible.)

What is the impact of soil erosion on biogeochemical cycling in agriculture and forest ecosystems?​

  • Identify the main concepts—keywords—in your question. 

Soil Erosion               Biogeochemical Cycling      Agriculture      Forest

  • Consider alternative terms—synonyms—for your keywords.

Synonym for Soil Erosion: Soil Disturbance

Synonym for Agriculture: Farming


Developing a Search Strategy

  • Link your keywords with connecting words AND or OR.  Note that AND limits your search results and OR expands results.
  • Use an asterisk, *, as a truncation symbol at the end of words, to allow for plurals or alternate word endings.
  • Use quotes around terms to search for exact phrases: “food web”
  • Search Example:

“biogeochemical cycl*” AND (soil* AND (erosion OR degradation)) AND (agriculture* OR forest*)​

Tips for Improving Search Retrieval

Not enough results?

  • Reduce the number of key concepts in your search question.
  • Increase the number of synonyms in your search, connected with OR.
  • Make sure all search terms are spelled correctly.  Consider alternative spellings.
  • Try other databases.


Too many results?

  • Reduce the number of synonyms in your search.
  • Search for your keywords only in titles or subject headings, rather than in all fields.
  • Limit your search to the most recent years.