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After brainstorming keywords, it’s time to construct your search for use in library databases. The functionality for doing so is typically built into database search interfaces , usually through drop-down menus that default to AND.

These connecting words in the drop-down menus are called Boolean operators and they can help you better limit or expand your search for more relevant results. Let’s use a real life example to make sense of this: John and Jane are going out to dinner, but they cannot seem to agree on where to go. John was sushi, but Jane really wants Thai food.

  • If they go with a restaurant that serves sushi AND Thai, they can only got to a restaurant that serves both.
  • A restaurant that serves sushi OR Thai could potentially just serve sushi, just serve Thai, or serve both.
  • Finally, if a restaurant serves sushi NOT Thai, they can only go to the sushi restaurant.

Clearly, John and Jane should go with sushi AND Thai, so both of them can be happy. These operators in library databases work the same way!

  • AND will only find articles that contain the words or phrases in both search boxes.
  • OR will find articles that have either one or both of the words or phrases.
  • NOT will not retrieve any articles found with the second, even if the first happens to be in it.

It's also a good idea to consider where you are searching. This is especially important in databases that search the full-text of all documents, like JSTOR.

  • Key Fields: Most databases default to searching the key fields. This includes the full citation, subject headings, and abstract/summary if there is one. This is typically a fairly efficient way to search.
  • Title: searches only words in the title. This is useful when there are many articles on your subject and you want to narrow them down.
  • Full-text: searches the entire article. This is useful when there are not many articles on your subject, but keep in mind that you may need to make your search much more focused.

Other Tips

  • Phrase Searching - putting your search terms in quotes (e.g. "civil war") will search for them only as a phrase.
  • Truncation - adding * to the end of a root word will locate all words for which that is that root—a good example is patrio* (patriot, patriotic, patriotism, and so on)
  • Read the database directions or the help page for specific instructions on how to search that database
  • Make sure you are spelling things correctly or are there variant spellings? Sometimes it's the little things.

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