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Arts & Creative Industries Subject Guide: Database Search Tips

This is the subject guide for the School of Arts & Creative Industries

Database Search Tips

In most databases, you will get some results if you just type keywords in a search box. But is that a good search? That depends on how the database has been programmed to search, and they are all different. If you don't think carefully about what you are asking it, you may get 20% of what is there, instead of 100%.  Here are some ideas that might help.

Multiple words

Multiple words 

If you type in more than one word, what will it do? e.g media ethics 

  • it might find results only when the words are together in that order, i.e. as a phrase
  • it might find results when any of the words are there - that will give things about media and things about ethics, but only some of them would be about media ethics
  • if you are lucky it might select records where both words are present somewhere

If the results you get are not what you wanted, you will need to find out how to do the right kind of search, e.g. 

  • you might need to link your words with AND
  • you might need to find out how to to search for a phrase - maybe you have to use inverted commas? e.g. "media ethics"

Less = More 

It may not be a good idea to type in too many words. More words may just confuse your search.  

  • The trick is to choose the best one or two words you can think of for your subject and experiment to see how many results you get.
  • You can always add more words later to narrow down your subject - or take some out to broaden it.

Other ways to refine your search

  • You may be able to limit your search terms to only certain areas, e.g. author or title word
  • There may be a subject index (thesaurus) which can help you tap into the words that have been used by the database's indexers
  • You can use truncation to make sure you include variations of a word such as plurals. It can save you having to repeat your search to make sure you don't miss anything. Cut the word short and replace it with the database's chosen truncation symbol:
Truncation - - - - - - - - - - - - - - comput* 
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -wom?n 
Proximity - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
-satellite w/3 wireless
  • It needs a bit of thought to make sure you don't get too many irrelevant words
  • Different databases use different symbols and rules - check the online help!

Boolean logic

Boolean logic - many databases use this when combining words in a search

AND   =   both terms
OR      =   either 1st or 2nd term 
NOT    =   finds 1st term except if 2nd term present

Venn Diagram showing Boolean AND overlap of terms

Make the computer do the work!

  • Use Marking tools to do the work of collecting the details of articles
  • Save or email yourself the results
  • Save searches you might want to run again
  • Set up alerts to be regularly run automatically, with the results emailed to you
  • Make use of any “personal space” opportunities in databases to save things that interest you