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PSY309 Research Skills Guide: Advanced searching

Common Search Tips

These search tips can help you to find more relevant results in Primo Search and many other library databases. If these tips don't work in the database you are using check their help section for their set of symbols.

Search Operator Example
Use AND to retrieve results that contain both of your search terms. psychology AND community
Use OR to retrieve results that contain any or all of your search terms. counselling OR counseling
Using NOT to exclude irrelevant results. psychology NOT psychiatry
Combine terms with parentheses to create complex searches. (psychology OR counselling) AND community benefits
Use quotation marks to search for a phrase "positive psychology"
Search for terms with different word endings using an asterisk. psycho* = psychology, psychological, psychotherapy
A question mark can be used to replace a single letter within a word. analy?e = analyze, analyse


Thesaurus/Subject Headings

Journal databases use a controlled vocabulary when indexing article records to enable information to be grouped by topic.

By controlling the vocabulary, the database ensures that synonyms and similar phrases are collected under one accepted term.

You can search using a database's vocabulary. When you are in a database there will usually be a hyperlink near the search boxes called thesaurus, subjects, or subject headings

Proximity Searching

In some databases, you can use a proximity operator to specify that your search terms must be close to – that is, within a certain number of words of – each other. This is narrower than a phrase-search, and broader than a keyword search.

The proximity operator is usually a letter or word, followed by a number. You can specify the number, and it will determine the number of words between your two search terms. The higher the number, the more results you will get, and the less relevant they might be.

In the EBSCOhost database the following search string "community benefits" N6 psychology will find the phrase community benefits within 6 words of psychology:


Proximity operators in the major database platforms:

  • EBSCOhost          Nn
  • ProQuest             NEAR/n
  • Informit               %         [and you must have All terms selected]
  • Ovid                    ADJn

where n is the number you nominate.

Thesaurus searching in EBSCOhost