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Find Books, Journals, and Other Materials at Milne Library: Searching Tips and Tricks

Searching Tips and Tricks

Sometimes the basic search options will not get you what you need.  Here are some tricks that can help if that happens.

Before describing these options, it's important to note that by default a database will search for the terms you enter exactly as you type them in.  To search for other forms of the word, for synonyms, or for phrases, we have to tell the database to do so.

Truncation (The Asterisk)

An Asterisk (*) at the end of a term will allow you to search for different forms of a word with what you enter as a base.  For example:

will return Education, Educator, Educators, Educate, Educated


will return just Education exactly as you type it in.

This is a very simple and effective way of broadening the number of results you get.

Nesting (Quotation Marks)

Quotations marks (" ") will group words as a phrase, ensuring they appear next to each other in the record. For example:

will return only articles that use those terms right next to each other.

whereas will return articles that may mention Great in one part of the record and Depression in another part of the record. 

Using Filters

Most databases offer ways to filter results to find only the kind of articles you need. For instance, in the database called PsycInfo, it is possible to narrow searches to articles that focus on specific age groups or that are a particular type of research study.


Proximity Searching

PROXIMITY SEARCHING   Sometimes when you are searching a database, you find articles that have your search terms, but on separate pages of the article, only vaguely related to each other. In that case, the technique of Proximity searching would be helpful.  Proximity searching allows you to search for documents that contain two search terms, in any order, within a specified number of words.  Here is an example:

This search will retrieve articles in which the word diabetes appears within 5 words of the phrase clinical trials, whether diabetes comes first or after clinical trials.

Other Search Fields

While the default search options in a database will often get you the results you want, there will be times when you may need additional options.  If you click on the dropdown where you see "Select a Field" or "All fields + text" you will notice a list of options that could help you retrieve more relevant articles.  

Here are some options that will often be available regardless of the database and how they can be used:

Author - If you know the author of a specific article or topic you're interested in, use this option.

Article Title - If you have a specific article in mind and know the title, use this option.

Subject - Most articles will have "Subject Headings" or "Descriptors" attached to them that indicate what that article is about.  If you search as a "Keyword" or in a Default "Select a Field" or "All Fields" search, the terms may just be mentioned in passing.  If you search for a subject, you know that that term or concept is a major theme of the article and not just mentioned in passing. 

Abstract - This option is good if you get too many results with a default search, but not enough with a subject search.

Journal Title - If you have a specific Journal you're required to use, select this option.

Most other options will differ from one database to the next, but if you're interested in some of these additional options, please contact a librarian.

Boolean (AND, OR, and NOT)


If a you enter a term with many potential synonyms, it may be a good idea to list those synonyms in your search and connect them with an "OR."  For example:

Typing in will return only articles that use the term Teenager exactly as you entered it, but an article may use similar terms or synonyms rather than the terms you enter.  You should type in those alternative terms and combine them with an OR to indicate that you don't care which term representing the concept returns results, just as long as one of them does.

You can combine Boolean with Truncation (the asterisk) and Nesting (the Quotes) and create a search that looks like this:

This will return articles that use terms or phrases such as Teen, Teens, Teenager, Teenagers, Adolescent, Adolescents, Adolescence, Young Adult, or Young Adults.


If you have multiple concepts and you would like each of them to be in any articles that you find, you should combine these concepts with an AND.  The Advanced search of most databases will do this automatically for you.  By Default the second and third lines are connected with an AND.

For example, if you have the research topic "Classroom inclusion for young children with  Autism."  We have multiple concepts that we would want to appear in the article:  Classroom Inclusion, Young Children, and Autism.  Using AND, and other skills discussed on this page we can create a search that looks like this:

Citation Tracking

Citation tracking refers to the practice of using the bibliography or reference list of a key article to find other suitable articles, and then to search for more recent articles that cite the key article in their bibliographies or reference lists. There are several databases that allow you to do this; Google Scholar and Scopus are particularly useful for citation tracking.

"Validation of a measure of college students' intoxicated behaviors: Associations with alcohol outcome expectancies, drinking motives, and personality"