Not all databases work the same way. Often databases will have unique features for more in-depth searching. If you plan to use a database regularly, it's worth taking some time to learn to search it well. On this page are a series of classic search techniques. Some search techniques, like truncation, will work in all databases but the symbol used may differ. Some databases also do some truncation by default, for singular/plural words in most cases. Some databases have thesauri or subject headings to help in searching. The database PubMed has MeSH, or Medical Subject Headings, which can be extremely useful in a clinical medicine search and sometimes helpful in tangential topics like animal science or microbiology.
Develop a basic search strategy to use in all the databases you'll use, which can then be tweaked as needed for any particular database. If you need help, contact your librarians!
Although you can find article citations in a database easily, finding useful and relevant articles can be 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
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
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