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Searching Electronic Databases

1. Select appropriate databases:  
Select an appropriate database for your research topic. To help you decide which databases you should choose, you can read more about the individual databases. Remember, you will need passwords to access the databases if you are off campus. Passwords can be obtained at the Library circulation desk or via email.

2. Search tips for databases:


Keywords are the important terms, concepts, or ideas that are identified as search terms.
example: You are seeking information on stem cell research and the controversy surrounding this issue.
keywords: stem cells and controversy
example: You are interested in finding out about possible treatment options for pediatric AIDS.
keywords: pediatric and treatment and (AIDS or HIV)

What are Boolean operators?
The Boolean operators AND, OR, and NOT tell computer databases and search engines
which way to conduct searches that best suit user's needs.  
The AND operator
You can specify that terms must appear in the items you retrieve by using the AND operator.
(It's best to capitalize Boolean operators because some search engines require this).
For example: gender AND crime

Each of the above search statements will find documents containing both terms, gender and crime.
You can use the AND operator more than once in a search.
For example: gender AND crime AND poverty

The OR operator

Using the OR operator states a preference that either or both of your search terms appear in your results.
For example: college OR university

Both of the above search statements will retrieve documents with either the term college or university or both terms, college and university. You can use the OR operator more than once in a search.
For example: college OR university OR higher education

The NOT operator

The NOT operator forbids the word after it from appearing in the items resulting from your search.
For example: Mexico NOT New Mexico

Both of the above search statements will retrieve documents containing the term Mexico but not containing the term New Mexico.


Truncation is a method of including all the possible ending forms of a word through the use of a symbol. It is an effective tool for expanding a search that has retrieved too few results. For example, consider the word environment, which has several possible variations. To truncate this word, type the word environment followed by the appropriate truncation symbol for the particular database:


These are some of the terms that will be searched:

Various symbols are used for truncation, depending on the database you are searching. In the library databases, MasterFile Premier and InfoTrac, for example, the truncation symbol (sometimes referred to as a wildcard symbol) is an *. In other databases it may be a $ sign, a # mark, or even a + sign. Read the database help information to find out which symbol is used to indicate truncation, and how it can be applied.

sample search in InfoTrac Expanded Academic Index: comput*


A symbol within a word provides for all possible variants inside a word or word stem. The most commonly used symbol for internal truncation is ? or #. For example, a search for wom?n will retrieve both woman and women


Use parentheses to clarify relationships between search terms when using the OR operator. For example:
(television OR mass media) AND violence
combines "violence" with either "television" or "mass media".

(jam OR preserves OR jelly) and recipe
combines "recipe" with either "jam" or "jelly" or "preserves"

3. Select keywords to use for your search based on important concepts or questions in your research. Then construct searches using Boolean operators and truncation when possible.

Examples of using keywords, Boolean operators, and truncation:

  • What effect does sleep have on memory?

    sleep AND memory

  • I need statistics on child abuse in North Carolina.

    child abuse AND North Carolina AND statistic*

  • How can I find criticism on Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery?"

    Shirley Jackson AND The Lottery AND critic*

  • Where can I find articles on women's education in Afghanistan?

    Wom?n AND educat* AND Afghanistan

  • I need information on teenage pregnancy.

    (teenagers OR adolescents) AND pregnancy

  • I need articles on the Titanic, the actual ship, not the film.

    Titanic NOT (film or movie)

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