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BIO 120: Principles of Biology I: Research Tips & Tricks

Research Tips & Tricks

The key to being a savvy searcher is to use common search techniques that you can apply to almost any database.  Searching on a database is a bit different than searching on Google, but with the techniques described, you will soon be able to search like a pro and retrieve information quickly and effectively. 

If you search a database and don't get the results you expect, reach out to a librarian for advice.  The library staff is happy to help you find what you need.  Happy searching!

Tips For When You're Stuck

Broaden Your Keywords
Don't get caught up in the specifics. If your results are limited in number, try being less precise with your keywords. 

Narrow Your Keywords
If your search is yielding thousands and thousands of results, narrow your keywords down. Stay away from commonly used words and avoid prepositions (in, to, by, etc.) and articles (a, an, the, etc.). 

Watch the Acronyms and Lingo
When searching topics that contain or use acronyms, search using the expanded name. Also, use technical terminology when searching, but avoid using slang. 

Think and Search Like a Robot
Use words and phrases that are concise and to the point, don't use flowery language, and remember: simpler is often better when searching. 

Collect Keywords and Terms as You Go
As you conduct your search, keep a list of words you can use for future searches. Make note (and search) the terms that keep appearing in your searches, and remember to look at the Subject Terms and Related Terms in articles to find additional articles on related subjects

Ask a Librarian
If you and your research are stuck, ask for help!

Searching Tips the Pros Use

Quotation Marks - Use these to create a phrase search, forcing your terms to be searched together in the order you specified. Using quotations marks ensures that the search fins the exact phrase rather than the individual terms somewhere in the same article. 

Example: "stem cell research" 

AND - Are you wanting to search for two different keywords or phrases? Use AND to search for articles containing both terms. And remember to type AND in all caps!

Example: distracted driving AND texting
Example: school uniforms AND freedom of expression


OR - Can your topic be described by more than one synonymous keyword? Use OR to create a search set so you can search all of the terms at once. And remember to type OR in all caps!

Example: (teens OR teenagers OR adolescents OR young adults)
Example: (film OR movie OR motion picture OR cinema)


NOT - Most databases will let you exclude certain articles based on terms they contain as well as the ones they don't. Use NOT to exclude words and phrases that you don't want to see. And remember to type NOT in all caps!

Example: law NOT corporate
Example: dogs NOT pets 

Developing Strong Keywords Worksheet

Need Help?

Connect with the Library

McGovern Library
(605) 995-2618

Librarian Alexis Becker
McGovern Office 113

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