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HDFS 4318 - Human Ecology of Parenting

This guide is designed to assist students in HDFS 4318 make the most of library resources for success in class!

Basics for a more Powerful Search

Searching by Concept

Most databases allow you to use the words, AND and OR in your searches.

This may not sound like a big deal, but these tools let us construct more powerful searches with concepts.

Here's what I mean. Let's say I have to do some research on cyberbullying in high schools.

You've got 3 ideas here. High schools, bullying, and the cyber nature of it.

The problem with databases and language is that we have so many different ways that we can describe the same thing. Computers have a hard time getting meaning from words, since to them they're just a series of characters. So if you search for high schools, and the author refers to them as secondary schools, you're not going to find those articles. What we do instead is take each concept, and think of lots of ways to describe it:



High school



Secondary school



Junior high

Cell phone

Name calling

Middle school

Email (etc)



The advanced search field of most databases has 3 (or more) boxes that you can use in your search. I recommend using one box for all the words in each column. Just make sure you separate them with OR's. ie.

cyber or online or electronic or cell phone or email

Repeat this with each column using a new box for the words in the column. You should have something that looks like this (depending on the database):


Screenshot of ERIC in EBSCO with search terms from the example chart entered in the search boxes

You can see that each box is separated by a drop down menu set to 'AND'

This ensure that each concept will be included in each result. So each article will have cyber and bullying and high school present in it.

Because we've used the OR's, we know that when cyber is in an article, it could be represented by any of the words that we thought of to cover the cyber nature of this kind of bullying.

Power of the Thesaurus

A thesaurus is an often overlooked part of many databases. Sometiimes these are labelled simply as 'subjects' or 'descriptors' typically when the subject terms are not given a structure.


But why would you want to use a thesaurus? Well, think of it this way. Remember how much work we had to do when we worked with concepts? Coming up with all those synonyms took a lot of time.

A thesaurus can save you time for some concepts when you find them represented by a subject term. The database provider looks at all the entries, figures out what they're about, and then puts a subject term from the thesaurus on the record regardless of the language the author is using! This way, all you need to retrieve the article are some well chosen subject terms.


In ERIC (through EBSCO), if you look at the top of the screen you'll see a button for the Thesaurus. We're really lucky in education because the thesaurus for ERIC is one of the best out there. When you click on the link you'll be able to search the thesaurus for your concepts as demonstrated below.



Screenshot of a search for classroom management in the thesaurus showing USE Classroom Techniques as a result


We can see that in this thesaurus, instead of using classroom management, ERIC uses classroom techniques.

If we're looking for something that involves classroom management as a concept, then we could use this term to capture this idea and retrieve all the relevant articles.


If you can't find a thesaurus term for a concept, you can still generate a list of synonyms and construct your search as before. You can just substitute subject terms from the thesaurus into those searches for those concepts, and leave the remaining ones as lists of synonyms.

Let's say in our previous example that we find bullying is a term in the thesaurus. Our search could be constructed as follows


Screenshot of ERIC in EBSCO showing a search for bullying by using the DE Descriptor option in the adjacent dropdown

You merely have to indicate that you're searching descriptors as shown above.