As you start to search in library databases, you’ll be making use of search terms to help you find what you need. Keep in mind that when you want to do a narrower, more focused search that gives you highly relevant results, you will want to combine multiple search terms or phrases. The downside of this approach can be that you may only get a few results or none at all. When combining search terms, you will need to be careful about which words you combine, how many you use, and how you combine them. It’s generally best practice to keep it limited to 2 to 4 words or phrases.
Watch the following video to learn more about developing effective search terms:
It can be helpful to use boolean operators, which are specific words you can use in databases that will connect your search terms in various ways. The boolean operators are AND, OR, and NOT.
AND allows you to combine two words or phrases so that all results must include both words. For example, let’s say you were researching the cost to produce and maintain solar panels. You might search for “solar panels AND cost” to get results that include BOTH those concepts.
OR allows you to search for two words or phrases so that the results include either word, not necessarily both. Expanding on the previous example, you might search for “cost AND production OR repair” if the type of cost information you need doesn't have to be specific to production or repair.
NOT can be the trickiest one to use. It allows you to make sure one of your search terms doesn’t appear in your results. It can help you narrow your results, but it can sometimes exclude results that could have been useful. One example of using it could be if you wanted to research the financial cost of solar panels, but you only want to know about production, not maintenance. Your search could look like “solar panels AND production NOT repair,” which would leave out any results with the word repair.
Now that you are more familiar with using search terms in academic databases, let’s look at another strategy you can use to find sources relevant to your research and to help strengthen the results you get. One option is to use database filters to help narrow down your results. These can typically be found on the left side of your search results screen in any database as a list of different options you can use to limit results. For example, in Academic Search Complete, this section is called “Refine Results.” Most databases will allow you to limit results by aspects such as source type, date of publication, language, and more
To learn about how to use database filters to help you refine your results, watch the following video:
As you do more searching in these databases, you can use this Annotated Bibliography Worksheet to help you keep track of any sources you find along the way: