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Database Search Tips: Home


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!

Search Like a Pro

When you search a database, you can't type in your question like you would on Google.  Instead, you need to use keywords and phrases, stringing them together to create what are known as search strings.  The easiest way to string keywords together is to use Boolean Operators.

What are Boolean Operators?

Boolean Operators are words that connect your search words together to either narrow or broaden your set of results.  The three basic Boolean Operators are: AND, OR, and NOT.

Note: You must capitalize the Boolean Operators for the database to recognize them as such.  If they are not capitalized, they will be ignored and assumed to be filler words (such as a, an, the, etc.).

Why Use Boolean Operators?

Use Boolean Operators to:

  • Focus your search, particularly when your topic contains multiple search terms.
  • Connect various pieces of information to find exactly what you are looking for.  

Using AND

Use AND in a search to narrow your results by telling the database that all search terms must be present in the resulting records.

Example Search: peanut butter AND jelly
Results Include: Only articles with the keywords peanut butter and jelly

Using OR

Use OR in a search to connect two or more similar concepts (synonyms).  This broadens your results by telling the database that any of your search terms can be present in the resulting records

Example Search: peanut butter OR jelly
Results Include: Any article with either the phrase peanut butter or the term jelly within

Using NOT

Use NOT in a search to exclude words from your search.  This narrows your search by telling the database to ignore concepts that may be implied by your search terms but are not wanted in the results.  NOT is useful to use if you keep getting results that are not connected to your search (example: you are searching for the scientific process of creating peanut butter, but sandwich results keep appearing). 

Example Search: peanut butter NOT jelly
Results Include: Only results containing peanut butter with no references to jelly


Number of Results Retrieved in Academic Search Premier for Each Search

Terms Searched Number of Results
peanut butter 10,896
jelly 7,404
peanut butter AND jelly 200
peanut butter OR jelly 18,100
peanut butter NOT jelly 10, 696


Truncation is also known as wildcard searching.  It lets you search for a term and variant spellings of that term.

To truncate a search term, do a keyword search in a database, but remove the ending of the word and add an asterisk (*) to the end of the word.  The database will retrieve results that include every word that begins with the letters you entered. 

Example: If you search the keyword interact* the database will search for interact, interacting, interaction, and interactivity

Number of Results Retrieved in Academic Search Premier for Each Search

Terms Searched Number of Results
educate 22,231
education 2,370,171
educating 19,576
educat* 2,670,337


Subject Headings

Subject Headings describe the content of each item in a database.  These are standardized words and phrases that are used throughout a database.  Use subjects to find relevant items on the same topic.  Searching by subject headings (or descriptors) is the most precise way to search article databases. 

Note: it is not easy to guess which subject headings are used in a given database.  To find a subject, click into a record and record what is listed under the Subject or Descriptor field.  Click on a subject to have the database search by a specific subject term. 

Keyword Searching

Using keywords is how you would typically search in an internet search engine (such as Google).  Think of important words or phrases and type them in to get results.

Records in library databases are comprised of fields containing to specific pieces of information.  Common fields include:

  • Author: who wrote or edited the material
  • Title: the name of the material (also contains the subtitle)
  • Journal Title: where the piece was originally published
  • Abstract: a brief summary of what the material is about (usually written by the authors)
  • Publisher: the company/organization that published the piece (different than the journal title)
  • Publication Date: when it was published (always contains a year, sometimes contains a month and day)
  • Subject / Descriptor: controlled vocabulary terms that describe the topic

How Database Fields Improve Searches

By limiting your search to specific database fields, you can yield more precise results.  For instance, if you are looking for books by Jane Austen instead of about her, it is more efficient to limit your search to the author field.  To find various fields within a database, look for drop down menus to select the field you want to search. 

If you do not choose a specific field, the database usually reverts to a keyword search, where your words will be searched throughout the record.  If your keyword search retrieves too many results (more than 50-100), try narrowing your search to retrieve a more manageable result. 

Stop words are frequently occurring, insignificant words that appear in a database record, article, or web page.  Common stop words include:

  • a
  • an
  • are
  • be
  • if 
  • in
  • into
  • of
  • on
  • the
  • which

About Stop Words

Why should you care about stop words?  Many databases ignore common words from you research statement.  If included, the database would return far too many results.  By knowing about stop words, you know which words to exclude from your search statement.  

If a stop word is important and significant to your search, make sure they are included.  Example: balance of payment

To ensure a stop word is included within your search, place the search phrase in quotation marks. Example: "balance of payment"

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