How do I improve my keyword search in databases and catalogs?
When you perform a search from a research topic, follow these tips:
Select only the most important words and phrases from your topic. Don't include connecting words like "for" or "the," or words like "cause" or "effect" that could be a part of any topic statement.
Search for individual words and phrases, not sentences. Databases don't understand grammar.
Combine terms with AND to narrow your focus. To find info about fur on dogs, search: fur AND dogs.
Combine terms with OR to expand your focus. To find info about fur on either dogs or cats, search: fur AND (dogs OR cats).
Example: Using multiple boxes
In a database, if you were researching:
What is the effect on a dog's fur of eating fish
You could use the database search boxes to enter:
|AND||fur OR coat|
|AND||fish OR seafood|
In other words:
- separate your main concepts into different boxes connected with AND
- add alternate keywords within a box using OR.
If you find too few results, try brainstorming new terms or making your topic more general (e.g. dogs --> pets).
- For more online help, view the slide shows at the Ask Us answer, "How do I get better search results through research and database techniques?"
- The University of Texas Libraries have produced an interactive tutorial on generating a keyword search from a research topic.
- Go through all the steps.
- Then, in the last screen under "Automatically Search with Your Keywords," copy and paste the entire search string, for example (dogs OR canines) AND (fleas OR ticks), into a single search box in any library database.