Skip to Main Content

Research Essentials

A General Guide to Research: how to research, where to look for sources, how to evaluate work, and where to get research help in the Iona University Libraries.

Database Searching Tools

This page provides tips and shortcuts for effectively searching the library catalog and databases. While we have all grown accustomed to natural language searching in Google, it is important to remember that computer systems are not yet well versed in human language. They still “speak” binary code and cannot always understand how keywords relate to each other. Searching the catalog is a process of trial-and-error, so use the tools on this page to translate your ideas from human language to database language.

The video below introduces a few database searching tools that this page expands on:

Field Searching

Search results in the library and database searches pull up records for resources. A record contains fields describing the item - like title, author, or DOI number. You can search the catalog by field with an Advanced Search, using the drop-down menu "Search Index" located to the right of the search bar to limit your search to fields including Author, Journal Source, Keyword, Subject, and Title.

You can also tell the catalog what sort of field searching you need by using the following shortcuts in the search bar on the library homepage:

  • Au: for searching by author. If you are looking for a book by Miguel Piñero, your search would look like “au:Miguel Piñero”
  • Kw: for keyword searching. If you are searching for resources about postcolonial Ghanian politics, your search would look like “kw:Ghana politics postcolonial.”
  • Su: for subject searching. If you are searching for resources about trade agreements between China and India, your search would look like “su:India China trade agreement"
  • Ti: for title searching. If you are looking for the book Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America, your search would look like “ti:working-class hollywood silent film and the shaping of class in america"

After initiating the search, use the filters and limits in the left-column of the search results page to narrow your results, limiting to peer-review, specific date ranges, or full-text only for example.

Phrase Searching

Use a phrase search if your keywords make a phrase. If you are researching gun control and want the database to search for results containing both gun and control together, use quotation marks around "gun control" to ensure that the database searches for that phrase. 

The video below explains phrase searching and a few other search techniques, some discussed further on this page.

Subject Searching in WorldCat

The Iona University Libraries WorldCat catalog has built-in features that can ease your search. The video below discusses the search strategies of Advanced Searching and using the Library of Congress Subject Headings.

Boolean Operators and Truncation

AND, OR, NOT are Boolean connectors, used to show the relationship between two or more keywords. They act as a kind of Rosetta Stone for databases, speaking to the computer in its first language.

The following graphic helps visualize what each Boolean operator does:

Image of three concentric circles representing the AND, OR, and NOT Boolean Operator

Image from: Duke University Libraries “Using the Library: Library Catalog Searching Tips.” https://library.duke.edu/using/catalog-search-tips/expert

AND narrows your search, telling the database that you are looking for sources about both of your two keywords.

If you are looking for sources about how racially biased hiring practices affect career advancement, you could search for:

"racial discrimination" AND  "career advancement"

To ensure that you only find sources about both phrases.

OR broadens your search.

In searching, OR means more and retrieves more results. OR is useful when you are searching using synonyms. OR is also useful for broadening your search: if you are researching renewable energy but having trouble finding results, you can search for specific kinds of renewable energy with the following OR search:

“wind energy” OR “nuclear energy” OR “solar energy”

The results retrieved will not necessarily have all your terms in the same article when you use OR.

NOT excludes a word from your search results and is useful if you find that your search terms are pulling up specific irrelevant results.

If you are writing about universal health care, but the catalog understands “universal” to mean the Milky Way galaxy, use the following NOT search:

“universal health care” NOT Mars

all the results will contain the first phrase but not the second phrase.

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.

legal* finds:

legal

legalize

legalized

legalization

legality

legalities