Q: 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).

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