Searching Databases

Searching Databases

Basic Search

Most subscription databases bring you to their basic search page when you login. Usually, this consists of one search box. A basic search will most likely search for your query in the full-text, title, abstract, or bibliographical information. This can vary depending on database (and some databases do not specify where they are searching for the basic search).

Advanced Search

The advanced search feature of subscription databases allows you to customize your search and provides the user with maximum control over searching. Unlike the basic search, the advanced search allows the user more than one search box to work with. Below are some advanced strategies for searching:


A user can select fields, usually presented in a drop-down list, to customize their search in the advanced search feature. Fields include article title, publication title, author, subject, all text, citation, and/or abstract. Limiting to one or more of these fields can help narrow a search.

Boolean Operators

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In advanced searching, Boolean logic uses AND, OR, & NOT to create a syntax for search queries to communicate to the database exactly what keywords to retrieve.
  • AND - combines search terms so that each document retrieved contains all terms (students AND relocation will search for all documents that contain both words)
  • OR - combines search terms so that each document retrieved contains at least one of the terms (moving OR relocation will search for documents that contain either the word moving or the word relocation). OR operator is helpful when there may be multiple terms to describe a concept.
  • NOT - excludes terms in a search result so that documents will be retrieved without the words that follow it (students AND relocation NOT elementary will search for documents that contain the words students and relocation but not the word elementary)

For a visual of how Boolean operators work, see The Boolean Machine.


Searchers use quotations around words when they are looking for specific phrases. By placing quotations around the phrase "American dream," a searcher is telling the system to find results that have the words American and dream in the exact order that the searcher typed them.


A searcher can replace an unknown character with a ? to retrieve results where the system replaces the ? with a letter. This wildcard may also be used to replace a letter in a word where the searcher would want to retrieve results that contain both spellings of the word (i.e. wom?n would retrieve woman and women).


Truncation is represented by an * (asterisk). To use truncation, a searcher can enter the root of a word and place the * at the end of the root. This would enable the system to search for various endings of the root word. For example, relocat* searches for relocation, relocating, relocated, and relocates. This would be a helpful searching strategy if there is a possibility that the word may appear in multiple forms.

Truncation can also be used between words (for example, weapons * destruction will search for weapons of mass destruction)


A searcher can use proximity searching when he/she wants to search for two or more words within a certain number of words from each other. Proximity operators are made up of a letter and a number.
  • Near operator (N) - N5 finds the words within 5 words of each other, regardless of order (school N5 reform will retrieve school reform and educational reform efforts in high school).
  • Within operator (W) - W5 finds the words within 5 words of each other in the order in which they appear in the operation (school W5 reform will retrieve school reform but not educational reform efforts in high school).

ACTIVITY: Using Ebsco, Find a few helpful resources predicting the state of our economy for the remainder of this year. Think carefully about your keywords and your search strategies. After you have performed the search and found quality resources, please visit the discussion above. Discuss/describe your search strategy in a response. Then, discuss the successes and/or frustrations you had. Please print out the first page of your favorite source and hand it in to us.

*Consult the database and search engine HELP pages to see which search strategies the systems use.


Browsing is an important part of research; it helps researchers build background knowledge of their topic. Researchers can even identify keywords for their topic by browsing. Sometimes, researchers can find helpful information in a database through browsing that may not be retrieved in a search they perform. Many subscription databases have very extensive browsing features. Notice that in the browsing features of a database controlled vocabulary is usually utilized.

ACTIVITY: Access any database from the IMC's Electronic Resources page, and explore the browsing features of the database. With your group members, discuss how accessible this database is for browsing.