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Scientific Research and Communication — Searching Strategies for Science Databases

Developing Communication Competencies for STEM Students

Database Searching Techniques

Although you can find article citations in a database easily, finding useful and relevent articles is often difficult. Several search strategies will be useful.

Boolean logic uses and / or / not  to combine words or terms. 


bacteria or microorganisms          includes either term

microscopy and bioassay              includes both terms

turtles not migratory                        includes first term but not second term


Truncation symbol, usually the asterisk *; offers variant endings on words. 

Example: hypothe* retrieves hypothesis, hypotheses, hypothetical, etc.


Wildcard symbol, usually the question mark ?, replaces a letter or letters in the middle of a word or one letter at the end of a word. Not all databases allow wildcards.


genetic? Retrieves genetic or genetics

colo?rful Retrieves colorful or colourful


Phrase searching, to keep words together as a phrase, you usually use the quote marks around the phrase "words together"

Example:  "global warming"


Author Name - the same author may publish under versions of a name over a lifetime. Search for different combinations of the name OR with unusual last names try searching for last name, first initial with an asterisk, as in Buffo J*


Silander, John A.

Silander John Augustus

Silander J.A.

Silander J.


Proximity Searching  - linking words or phrases by their proximity to each other is a powerful search tool. Specify the number of extra words which can exist between the searched terms. Exact formatting differs between databases. To search for the word seasonal within 4 words of the word migration, here is the formatting for several popular databases:

Biosis and Zoological Record:  seasonal near/4 migration

Earth Atmospheric & Aquatic:  seasonal N/4 migration

Scopus:  seasonal W/4 migration

CAB:  seasonal N4 migration

PubMed: does not allow proximity searching

Agricola  seasonal N4 migration

Searching Strategies

The videos below show examples of what your search results in a database might look like, how to use keywords and controlled vocabulary to refine your search, and how to use filters and facets to narrow down your results. Once you have found an article you like, the second video shows you how to access and download the document.

Conducting a Simple Database Search
Getting the Article

What is Boolean searching?

Boolean searching uses the terms "AND", "OR", and "NOT" to broaden or narrow your search results. 

Search Strategies for Topics

Part of picking a topic will involve conducting literature searches. As you search for your topic(s) start with searches as BROAD as possible, while remaining relevant to your topic. Starting broad will give a breadth of coverage that allows you easy options for narrowing your topic. If you start with a narrow topic it is much harder to broaden your topic later to explore more options.

Describe your topic in a sentence.

How did carnivorous plants evolve digestive enzymes?

What are your major concepts? Identify the main elements of your topic.

Concept 1 Evolution
Concept 2 Carnivorous plants
Concept 3 Digestive enzymes



Think of related terms for your concepts. Use both common words and scientific terms.







Concept 1


Convergent evolution




Concept 2

Carnivorous plants

Cephalotus follicularis (Australian pitcher plant)

Nepenthes alata (Asian pitcher plant)

Sarracenia purpurea (American pitcher plant)

Drosera adelae (Sundew)

Concept 3

Digestive enzymes


Purple acid phosphatase

RNase T2





Add Boolean Operators (AND & OR) to structure the search in a database search interface.

    Synonyms Synonyms Synonyms Synonyms
Concept 1 Evolution OR Convergent evolution      
Concept 2 Carnivorous plants OR Cephalotus follicularis OR Australian pitcher plant OR Nepenthes alata OR Asian pitcher plant OR Sarracenia purpurea OR American pitcher plant OR Drosera adelae OR Sundew
Concept 3 Digestive enzymes OR Citanase OR Purple acid phosphatase OR RNase T2  


Scientific Information Databases at UConn

Engineering Village which is made up of both Compendex and Inspec, is the best general search database for engineering, along with Scopus.  PubMed is useful if you are researching biomedical engineering topics. Knovel, Reaxys and SciFinder are great for researching chemical properties or specific data. IEEE is the top resource for electrical engineering.

Acronym Guide:

Many of the databases and scholarly societies have acronyms that can be confusing.  Here are their definitions:

ACM: Association for Computing Machinery

ASTM: American Society for Testing & Materials

IEEE: Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers

IET: Institution of Engineering and Technology

TRB: Transportation Research Board

TRIS: Transportation Research Information Services

ITRD: International Transport Documentation Database (from OCED)

Other Scholarly Societies: we do not subscribe to these as whole databases, but writings may be available through databases we already subscribe to:

ASME: American Society of Mechanical Engineers

ASCE: American Society of Civil Engineers