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Communication Subject Guide — Searching for Information

Guide to finding communication resources.

What's on this Page?

On this page you'll find:

If you feel that you already have a good grasp of searching in a database, go ahead and skip down to Searching with Controlled Vocabulary. Especially useful for graduate students.

Explore further:

Develop Search Strategies

Uset these simple commands (Boolean Operators) to search for your keywords and subject headings.


Database Commands (Boolean Operators)

  • OR finds citations with any of the terms (stress OR anxiety). OR is important because authors use all sorts of different words to describe the same thing. Also, databases only find the exact words you type. If you type anxiety, a database will not find anxieties or anxious.
  • AND finds citations with all of the terms (stress AND students)
  • NOT eliminates citations that use the terms (stress NOT alcohol)
  • asterisk (*) includes suffixes (stress* will find stress, stressor, and stressors)
  • quotation marks ensure adjacent words are searched as a phrase ("alcohol consumption" OR "drinking behavior")

Do not enter sentences or long phrases into databases. These confuse databases and you will not get accurate results

Most databases provide multiple text boxes. Enter one topic per box. 

Ex. Find citations about stress and college students that do not pertain to alcohol consumption

(stress* OR anxiety OR cortisol OR epinephrine) AND (college* OR universit* AND student* OR undergraduate*) NOT (alcohol OR "drinking behavior")

PubMed requires parentheses. Enter one topic per parentheses.

Ex. (stress* OR anxiety OR cortisol OR epinephrine) AND (college* OR universit*) AND (student* OR undergraduate*) NOT (alcohol OR "drinking behavior")

Thinking Tools

Use these thinking tools to help organize your search. The tools here will help make your thinking visible.

As always, if you're having trouble getting started, or not sure how to use one of these tools to organize your search, contact me.

Too Many or Too Few Results? Refine Your Search

too many results

Too Many Search Results ?

  • Find better search terms or keywords. Think of terms that are more specific and modify your search.
  • Add more search terms. Start with a smaller number of keywords and then add more terms to refine your search. 
  • Use limiters. Limiters such as date and format will give you more targeted results. 
  • Do not use OR. Using OR between terms will search for all instances of each term. 
  • Notice the default search options. Databases often search in the title, author, abstract and subject fields. Be specific and search for the terms in just the title or subject field. 
  • Narrow down your topic. Your topic may be too broad so think about a more focused aspect of the topic.
    For example, students --> college students --> freshmen 

too few results

Too Few Search Results ?

  • Try a database on your topic. Search in a database that specializes in a certain subject because it covers the subject discipline in greater depth. Use Databases by Subject or consult a Research Guide created by a UConn subject librarian for help. 
  • Broaden your topic. Did you start too narrow and specific? Is the topic too new? Think about broader search terms on the subject. 
  • Change your search terms. Consider similar or related terms.
  • Use fewer search terms. Start with a smaller number of keywords and add more as needed. 
  • Use fewer limiters. Limiters such as date or format can cause you to have too few results. Remove one or more limits to expand your search to include more results.
  • Check your spelling.  Unlike Google, research databases often do not suggest a correct spelling. 
  • Use OR with synonyms. 
  • Use wildcard (usually a question mark)  or truncation (an asterisk)  to include additional variations of your search terms. Consult the help section of the database for more specific information.

Adapted from DIY Library Project, Portland State University Library

Searching with Controlled Vocabulary

Graduate Students: This is especially useful for you!

Once you have some experience searching using keywords, the next step is to use Controlled Vocabulary.

Have you ever looked and looked in database and just not been able to find the search words? This search strategy will help you to move from your concept to the specific terms that describe it!

Quick explanation:

  • Databases will only find the words you type
  • It is very time consuming to guess all the variations of all the different words someone uses to describe something
  • There are professionals that have done this work for you

Just like in the natural world -  a cat might be called a "house cat," "domestic cat," "feline," or "little kitty love love," but to a biologist it's always Felis catus.

For example: you looked for research using the word "tattling." But if you didn't use the subject term "talebearing," you missed out on most of the research using the word "talebearing" (the word the database uses to best describe this concept).


A lot of databases include a guide to their controlled vocabulary. It might be called a "thesaurus," (like in the example here) or maybe "subject terms" or subject headings. Poke around a little bit, and if you're not sure, ask me for help.

Example of the thesaurus circled