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Developing Research Skills: Search Tips

The purpose of this guide is to introduce you to information literacy skills (superpowers) through the use of an existing research assignment so that you will feel more confident and equipped in college research activities.

Discovery Search Tutorials (3)

Discovery Search: MCC's Answer to Google

This system provided by the MCC Library, searches most of our databases and the online catalog at one time. View a basic and advanced search demonstration in this video tutorial.

Links to sections of tutorial:
Basic Search
Advanced Searching
Folders, Print, Email and Save

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Discovery Search: MCC's Answer to Google

Searching for Books from the MCC Library

Searching for Books from the MCC Library

This tutorial will show you where to find hard copy and electronic books provided by the MCC Library. For best results, view in HD mode.

Searching for Books from the MCC Library (with captions)

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Searching for Books from the MCC Library

How to Find Articles from Newspapers and News Sources

How to Find Articles from Newspapers and News Sources

Using the online databases from the MCC Library, you can also search for articles from newspapers. For best results, view in HD.

How to Find Articles from Newspapers and News Sources (with captions)

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How to Find Articles from Newspapers and News Sources

Search Tips

Which of the following searches will be more effective?

A) Are school vouchers good or bad for public schools?


B) "school vouchers" AND "public schools" AND issues

The answer is typically B - keywords and phrases.

In most cases, you do not want to type in a long sentence or sentence fragment.  Taking your search topic and translating it into the most important keywords that describe your topic is the most effective search technique.  The cases in which you would want to use a sentence as your search phrase are when you are gathering background information, you are having trouble effectively searching with keywords, or it is likely authors will use such similarly worded sentences in their articles.

Other tips regarding keywords:

  • Avoid putting too much into one search - pick the best keywords that you expect the author to be using in their discussion and adjust along the way.
  • Common words to describe an issue versus professional and technical terminology can often effect the scholarly nature of your search results.  For instance, "public education reform" versus "improving our schools."

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"

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. 

If the database in which you are searching has multiple text boxes for an advanced search, use the options for AND, OR, and NOT between each text box.  If you have a single search text box, you can use AND, OR, or NOT between a word or phase you enter.

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.  OR will make your search bigger.  If you are receiving too few results, try  connecting a synonym to your topic using OR. 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.


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 (default search screen in EBSCO).  Some common fields are:

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


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.)

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:


(exclamation mark)

? (question mark)

EX: femini*

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

Search Tips for Finding Viewpoints

If you need to show evidence from contrasting and many points of view within an argumentative or informative paper, keep in mind:

1. Do not expect to find one article that covers all viewpoints. The point of your research is to synthesize information from many sources that address the contrasting sides or various aspects.

2. Do not use the words "pro" or "con" in your search.  Consider some of the viewpoint terms listed below:
Neutral terms: argument, case, controversy, debate, effect, impact, issue, legislation, opinion, policy, proposal, propose, solution, viewpoint. 
Pro terms: advantages, advocate, agree, benefits, in favor, proponent, strengths, support, sympathize.
Con terms: antagonist, consequences, disadvantages, disagree, drawback, limitations, problems, risks, shortcoming.

3. Search for words and phrases that address what you expect to be the different viewpoints or aspects of your topic. For instance, if researching the future of Social Security, you might use "social security" and reform, "social security" and shortfall, or increase and "retired population" and "social security."

4.  Do not type your entire research question into the search.  For example, "Should the United States government continue to provide Social Security as a retirement option?" Instead, turn your question into keywords and phrases - "united states" and debate and "social security" and future.