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Top 16 Database Search Techniques

Top 16 Remedial Database Search Techniques

What Do You Do When Your First Search Doesn’t Give You the Results You Want?

1.    Brainstorm - What are the essential questions?  What are the essential terms?

2.    Spell it [w]right! – Did you hear about the student who complained that we had no books on “Shakspear”? Google may have Spell Check, but many databases don’t, so beware of bad spelling. Moreover, misspelling may retrieve the wrong subject. Capital/capitol, desert/dessert, stationary/stationery are potential mistakes that Spell Check won’t catch.

3.    More is Less! - Limit you search by adding search terms one by one. Try searching under Art? Way too many hits! But if you search under Art and France, the number of hits drops dramatically. You could narrow your search even more with a third search term - Baroque.

4.    Less is More! - If you have too few hits, or none at all, try removing a search term.

5.    Find one, find many! - If you find a good article, use the hyperlinks that come with the article to find similar articles. Articles commonly hyperlink to the same Author, Publication, or Subject(s).

6.    Think outside the box! – Try searching under a different search term. Example: If Career doesn't work, try Vocation. Or Job. Or Profession. Or Occupation.

7.    Enlarge your box! – If “tornado” doesn't find enough, ask yourself what is BIGGER than a “tornado?” Books on weather or disasters might contain a chapter on “tornadoes.”

8.    “OR” is powORful! - Search for several search terms at once using the OR connector. That way it doesn't matter if one of your search terms doesn't work; your search can still retrieve articles under the other terms. Example: Career OR Vocation OR Profession

9.    Bigger is better! - Expand your search from a Subject Search (the narrowest search), to a Title Search, to an Abstract Search, to a Full Text Search, and finally to a Keyword Search. Keyword Searches look in EVERY possible search field.

10.    Fish in a different pond! - Try a different database.

11.  Fish in a bigger pond! – The Mega Databases – Academic Search Complete, Gale Academic OneFile, and OmniFile Full Text Mega - are huge and cover all topics!

12.  Fish in every pond! – Use OneSearch to search across multiple databases at once.

13.  Learn the “Lingo!” - Most databases have a “controlled vocabulary” of official search terms. For instance, if you were doing a subject search of the term “handicapped,” you would be disappointed by the lack of results because the term is not used any more. Moreover, the topic may be called different things in different databases.

Education Full Text                         

 “People with disabilities”                     



Gale Academic OneFile

 “Disabled persons”

Professional Development Collection 

 “People with disabilities”

The only way to know the official subject terms used by individual databases is to check their Thesaurus or Subject Index (usually located at the top of the search screen).

See Also – Rule no. 5

14.  Technology is your friend! - Although the library’s Books and eBooks contain the same content, our eBook databases are much more powerful search tools than the Tables of Contents and Indices contained in the printed books. EBook databases search every single word in every single book.

15. You can’t make a “silk purse” out of a “sowe’s ear.” Wouldn’t it be nice if the internet had a button you could click on for reliable resources? Actually it does, it’s called Google Scholar. OneSearch has one too. It’s called “Peer-reviewed Journals.”

16.  Most important rule of all!Ask a Librarian. Remember example number two? That student might have left without finding any books on Shakespeare if he/she hadn't asked a librarian for help. When you've reached your limits, ask for help and learn something new.