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Database Help: Search Tips

Having trouble using the databases? This guide answers frequently asked questions about databases, provides video tutorials and search tips that will help you use the databases to find the information you need.


To search for two or more words in an exact order, place quotation marks around the phrase.  The computer will only return documents containing that specific phrase rather than documents containing each word found individually anywhere in the document.

EX: "obsessive compulsive disorder"


Truncation allows you to search for a root word with all of its different endings by placing a symbol at the end of the word.  Symbols vary by database so check the help section on each database.  Common symbols are:

* (asterisk)

! (exclamation mark)

? (question mark)

EX: femini*

The computer will search for feminist, feminism, feminists, feminine, feminize


Limiters help refine and narrow your search.  Using Limiters can give you more precise results.  The location of these limiters vary by database, but are commonly found on the left side of the page.  Some may be applied before your search or after.  Common limiters are:

  • Full Text
  • Peer Reviewed
  • Date
  • Publisher Name
  • Source/Document type (journal, newspaper, interview, editorial, etc.)


Library databases have predefined fields that you can search within. Limiting your search to specific fields can make your search more precise. For example, if you are looking for a particular article, type in the article title and choose Title in the drop down field menu.  Use the Advanced Search option to search within a field.  Some common fields are:

  • Author
  • Title
  • Text
  • Abstract
  • Subject
  • Source (publication title)

EX: Discovery Search

Boolean Searching

By using three simple words,  you can improve your search results.  Boolean searching connects words and phrases with three Boolean Operators, AND, OR, and NOT. Depending on the operator, you can either narrow or expand your search results.  Use the Advanced Search tab found in the databases (EBSCO defaults to the this screen).

AND  will make your search smaller.  If you are getting too many items in your search results, try linking another term to your topic using AND.  When you add AND between two or more search terms, your search results will include all of your search terms.

EX: obesity AND children 

OR will make your search bigger.  If you are receiving too few results, try connecting a synonym to your topic using OR.  When you add OR between your search terms, your search results will include either of your search terms. 

EX: teenagers OR adolescents

NOT will exclude a word from your search results.  If you are getting to many results on an unrelated topic, try eliminating a word with the operator NOT.  Your search results will only include the term before NOT.

EX:  cowboys NOT football

Examples in EBSCO

screenshot of ebsco search screen


Searching Databases with Boolean Operators

Related Subjects

Discovery Search allows you to narrow your results by related subjects after you conduct your initial search.  This feature is very helpful if you receive too many results and need help thinking of terms related to your topic. When you select one or more of the related terms, Discovery Search will give you a new list of documents that contains your original search terms and the related terms you have chosen.  All of these subject terms must appear in an article in order for it to be included in your search results. 

You will find these related terms/subjects to the left side of your results list. 

Here is an example of a related subjects list when searching for "great explorers”: