The goal of this guide is to help you become a better searcher.
Databases are structured in similar ways and have many common features. This means that if you can search one database effectively, then your skills are transferable to other databases.
Knowing how your favorite database uses the terms you put into the search box may make all the difference in your being able to find what you need quickly and effectively.
Follow the steps listed on this page to get started:
Browse the tabs on the left for more database tips and search techniques!
On the homepage of The Chicago School Library, there are a couple of choices of where to start your search:
The search box on the library webpage is a great option for starting your research, or to find a specific item. OneSearch searches across The Chicago School Library's physical and ebook collections, as well most library databases, which includes full text articles and streaming videos, and more.
While OneSearch results are comprehensive, there are limitations:
Take a look at the Library's OneSearch Guide for more information on how to use this convenient library discovery tool.
Searching library databases is a good choice for more in-depth research or to find specialized types of information. Databases can be multidisciplinary or they can specialize in specific subject areas, such as psychology, education, nursing, business, etc. Subject specific databases such as PsycINFO, CINAHL or ABI/Inform Global also include helpful subject specific search tools and limiters.
For more on databases, watch this informative video from the University of Michigan Library that explains:
Watch this video on finding and using databases in The Chicago School Library:
The next step is to choose your keywords. First, break your topic into key concepts. These concepts will form the building blocks of your search strategy.
Example Topic and Key Concepts:
Databases look for the exact words and phrases you type in, so if the author uses a different word (synonym) to describe a concept, you will not see that article in your results.
For each key concept of your topic or research question, make a list of other words with the same or related meanings.
Think of synonyms or even specific examples or types.
It may help to ask yourself, "What other words could the author use to describe this concept?
Use this list as you search the databases.
In addition to synonyms, be creative and think of:
How you connect your search terms together can change the outcome of your search!
A database needs instructions--tell it what to do!
Databases use the Boolean Operators AND, OR, NOT to combine search terms.
Most databases automatically use AND. This only retrieves articles that contain all of the keywords.
Here's an example:
See the Boolean Searching tab for more information on how to use this technique.
Explore the database and see what's there.
Rather than trying to construct one perfect search, plan on trying several experimental searches. Remember, your initial searches are a guess about how the author has described the topic in the title and abstract. You are trying to match your keywords to their words.
1. Run some exploratory searches in the database using different keywords from your list. As you search, seek out diverse perspectives by using a variety of keywords.
2. Browse your search results. In most databases, you will need to click on the title to read the abstract.
3. Look for relevant articles.
4. Look for subject headings. Most databases assign subject headings for each article. These indicate the main topics of the article. If there is an appropriate subject heading for one of your concepts try using it in your search instead of your keywords! For more information, click on the Subject vs. Keyword Searching tab.
5. Once you've found some relevant articles, look for additional keywords or subject headings in the article details, or abstract that can be used in another search. Here's an example:
6. Revise, Revise, Revise. Initial searches can often be improved. Evaluate your results and then search again using alternative keywords or appropriate subject headings found in your initial results. You can also look for interdisciplinary perspectives on your topic by trying out your searches in more than one database.
Setting Up the Search:
1. As a general rule, start with broad searches. Cast a wide net and explore your results. After you have determined the best keywords/subject headings, start to limit your search.
Start with only 2 of your concepts. Prioritize your concepts and begin with the two most important concepts.
2. Most databases have multiple search boxes near the top of the page.
Enter each of your core concepts separately.
If you don't see the individual search boxes, click on the Advanced Search option
Tried some searches but found that you are getting too few results, or too many? Or just getting irrelevant results? Searching is often a process of trial and error. You will probably revise & refine your searches several times based on each search's results.
Too Many Search Results?
Too Few Search Results?
Example: (learning OR "academic achievement" OR "academic performance" OR grades)
See the Boolean Searching tab for more on this search technique.