English 102

Search Techniques

These are a few tips for searching using different methods. Research is very much a slow, messy, trial-and-error process, so be prepared to use many different approaches and compare your results. Expect to hit dead ends and have to go back and start over. Use the Search Strategy Worksheet—keep trying out different synonyms and related terms. Be willing to revise your question as your understanding of the topic, and of the research process, grows.

All these suggestions assume that you are using a database like ProQuest or EBSCO and that you are working from the “Advanced Search” page, where you can enter multiple search terms.

Combination search vs. exact phrase search

Combination searches using AND find all articles that have ALL the keywords anywhere in them (or anywhere in the citation: You can select whether to search just the citation or the full text of the article).

Exact phrase searches find ONLY articles that have the exact phrase, as written.

Example: divorce AND parents finds ALL articles that have the word divorce AND the word parents, not necessarily together.

“divorced parents” (including quotation marks) finds ONLY articles that have the exact phrase, divorced parents.

Most databases use quotation marks for phrase searching, but some may use other indicators. If quotation marks don’t seem to be working, look at the drop-down menus next to the search boxes to see if “exact phrase” is an option.

Keyword search vs. Subject search

Keyword search finds ALL articles that have the word(s) anywhere in them (or anywhere in the citation).

Subject search finds ONLY articles that have the word(s) in the subject field, which lists the article’s main subjects.

Example: A keyword search for unemployment will find articles that have that word in them, including ones that are about a different subject, such as an article about fishery collapse that mentions unemployment. A subject search for unemployment will only find those articles that have the term as one of their subject headings, because someone has determined that unemployment is a main subject.