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Research Guides

Advanced Research Techniques

Advanced techniques

On this guide you will find several advanced search techniques. Nearly all of these techniques will work in our catalog as well as other databases. Examples have been provided using the syntax for ProQuest; however, each database uses its own syntax. Refer to a database's Help Guide for more information.

Exploding subject headings

Every database has subject headings in some form. Some subject headings have narrower terms and/or broader terms.


  • BROAD TERM: Area planning & Development
  • YOUR TERM: Land use
  • NARROWER TERM: Mixed use development

Exploding a term takes all of the broader terms that accompany your term and add them to your search. It can be a great way to find more relevant subject terms and, therefore, relevant results.


  • Go to the advanced search option in the ribbon at the top of the screen. (Stay away from Command Line unless you really know what you're doing.)
  • Click the "Thesaurus" link above the search box. A pop-up will come up.
  • Select the thesaurus you want to use (probably Proquest Thesaurus)
  • Search or browse for the subject terms you want; select terms by clicking the checkbox next to it.
  • Once you click the subject terms you want, ProQuest remembers which ones you've checked, so even if you go to a different entry in the thesaurus, you will still keep your previous subject terms.
  • Add to search, probably combining with OR
  • Now execute the search.

Growing the pearl

"Pearl growing" is finding one article or source you really like, and looking at their cited sources. If you find these cited sources, look at their cited sources. Here's an example:

  • Ben finds a great article on his topic, written by Linda. He looks at the sources Linda has cited.
  • Ben finds Linda's bibliography, and finds a book that seems relevant to him, written by Jordan.
  • Ben then finds Jordan's work, and it is also a great fit for his research. He cites Jordan's book, and also looks at the sources Jordan cited.
  • Ben keeps growing his research pearl layer by layer.

Finding sources online

Before requesting an article via ILL, try to do a Google Scholar search. If you can't find the article, then try a general Google search either for the article title or the author. Authors will sometimes post their published articles on their personal website for educational purposes only.

Set-based searching

Set-based searching is a great way for you to break searching down into more manageable "chunks."

When searching, the computer "remembers" what you searched for previously. Every search is considered a search after pressing the search button, no matter how many words you type or how many fields you use.


  1. Type in your respective searches
  2. Click "modify search" underneath the search field, by the blue magnifying glass
  3. Click "recent searches" underneath the search field
  4. In the search box, TYPE the set number to combine. For example, S2 AND S5; S1 OR S8

Field searching

Think of a search field as a single drawer in a filing cabinet to look in. Each "cabinet" is labeled with what kind of information it contains, such as author, title, or journal. If you tell the computer to look in the author cabinet, but tell it the year of publication, you won't get any results. Make sure you're searching in the right cabinet!


  • Searching an abstract: AB(terror*)
  • Searching for an exact subject: SU.EXACT(Avionics)


The thesaurus is a list of subject headings, also known as a subject index. Why would you use this? So you know what the database calls the idea you're thinking of!

For instance, in PsycINFO, the thesaurus term for fairy tales is folklore.

By perusing relevant subject headings, you find out how other people are talking about your topic. You can use these words in a keyword search, or you can combine multiple subject headings to get a very precise set of results.

Locate the thesaurus or subject index by using the steps listed in the box "Exploding subject headings."

Proximity searching

Proximity searching is something between finding an exact phrase and finding words anywhere. You search for word A within a certain number of words of word B.

There are two kinds of proximity searching: ordered and unordered proximity. Ordered proximity searches for words in order; unordered proximity searches for any result with both words within the parameter you specified. Your parameter can be any number, but we recommend within 5 or so words at most.

Each EBSCO and ProQuest both refer to proximity searching and unordered proximity searching differently. See below for examples.



  • Ordered: therapy PRE/3 client (read as: "therapy" up to three words before "client")
  • Unordered: therapy n/3 client (read as: "therapy" and "client" within up to three words of each other)


  • Ordered: family N5 therapy (read as: "family" and "therapy" within up to five words of each other)
  • Unordered: (organization) W5 (behavior) (read as: "organization" up to five words before "behavior.")

Notes about searching

  • Autocorrect: Google often corrects our searches, and so does our phone when we text. Don't expect this from any database or even the catalog- make absolutely sure your query is free of typos.
  • Dashes, colons, semicolons, and other punctuation: Different databases and database providers treat special characters in different ways. Typically the best thing to do is to remove special characters and replace with a space if needed.
  • Stop word(s): These are short words such as an, a, the, of, or, and. These words are so common that databases will not look at them when you are telling it to search. Don't waste your time with these words when constructing your search unless absolutely necessary.
    • Turn off stop words by surrounding the word with quotation marks. To find a book called "Brains or Beauty," you would use brains "or" beauty.
  • Capitalization: Capitalization is not read in any of our databases, so feel free to give your caps lock a break!