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English 120 Communication Skills: Writing

A guide to library resources and research for ENG110, 120, and 122 students

Databases - Search Smart

This page shows you quick tips and shortcuts experts use for database searching. These tips will help you help you navigate the databases with ease, while allowing you to refine your topic as you search.

Search Tips

A database is a huge collection of records, such as Google, JSTOR, or WorldCat

A record is a made up of fields which describe the item you are looking for, such as a book or article.

Fields are the individual elements in the record, such as the title, author, publisher, or subject.


Field Searching

Since all database records are divided into fields, you can search for terms appearing in a particular field, such as Author or Abstract. This can really help when you're looking for a specific item. Using the subject field in a book or article record will quickly link you to a list of other material sharing that same subject.

You can also use filter or set limits on results, such as peer-reviewed only, specific date ranges, full-text only. 

Phrase Search

Phrase search if your keywords make a phrase by using quotation marks, such as

"gun control"  "religious freedom"  "human trafficking"

Skip to the 3:00 minute mark in the video below to learn more about phrase searching.

Using AND, OR, and NOT (Boolean searching)

Use "AND" to get better results.

AND, OR, NOT (Boolean connectors) are used to show the relationship between two or more keywords (called Boolean connectors). Use them for better results.

AND narrows your search, which retrieves very relevant results.

cats AND dogs AND evolution -- All three words must be in each search result.

Use "OR" to get more results.

OR broadens your search.

In searching, OR means more and gets you more results. We generally want fewer and more relevant results or hits. A perfect time to use it is when you have synonyms, such as in teenagers OR adolescents OR "young adults." Another example would be death penalty OR "capital punishment" (quotation marks are used to denote a phrase)

OR is also useful when you're searching for two or more terms which don't necessarily have to be in the same article, such as wind OR solar.  That search will give you all articles with only the word wind, all articles with only the word solar, and articles containing both wind and solar.

Use "NOT" to get fewer results.

NOT excludes a word from your search results.

In the example:  jaguar NOT car NOT team, your results will ONLY be the:

photo of jaguar standing


Note: AND, OR, NOT do not have to be capitalized.

When Less is More * (Truncation)


By using the asterisk (*symbol, you can search simultaneously for words that begin with the same letters or have the same root. *  takes the place of any number of characters following the root letters. This allows you to conduct multiple searches with just one search. Use this tip in our popular databases like EbscoProQuest Central, and JSTOR.

legal* finds