Skip to main content

Database help: Searching in a database

Search Techniques - Choose from the links below

  • Operators are special words that determine how your search terms are combined in the search.
  • They are sometimes called BOOLEAN operators (named after George Boole, a mathematician).
  • You should always type in your search operators in capital letters.
  • The 2 main search operators are AND and OR.

 

Using the AND operator 
  • Retrieving too many results can be a problem when searching databases.
  • If you add extra search terms, and combine them with AND, you will get only results that contain both or all of the terms.
  • This is a way of making your search more specific (narrower), and getting fewer results.

Example:

Boolean AND searching gets results where all search terms are included

Using the OR operator 
  • Sometimes you might not get enough results.
  • If you add extra search terms, and combine them with OR, you will get results that contain one or other (or both) of your search terms.
  • This is a way of making your search less specific (broader), and getting more results.

Example:

Boolean OR searching gets results with at least one of your search terms

Using the NOT operator 
  • Sometimes you might wish to get results that do NOT contain a certain term.
  • If you combine precede a term with NOT, you will get results that do not contain that term.
  • This is a way of making your search more specific (narrower), and getting fewer results.
  • NOTE: consider that it might be better to search for what you do want, rather than what you do not want.

Example:
government NOT state

Nesting
  • You can use different operators in the same search. If you do, you must use EITHER different search lines, OR round brackets. This is important to ensure that the correct operators work on the correct terms.
  • This enables you to construct complex searches.

Examples:

(politics OR government) AND (history OR past) AND australia

politics OR government
[AND] history
[AND] australia

  • Truncation is used to search for terms with different word-endings.
  • This is another way of making your search broader, and getting more results.
  • In Primo Search, and in most databases, the truncation symbol is the asterisk ( * ).

Example:
politic* will search for the words politic, politics, political, politician, politicians etc.
histor* will search for the words history, historical, historian, historians etc.

  • What's the difference between keyword-searching and phrase-searching?
    • Keyword-searching = when you enter multiple words, your results will contain both or all words, but not necessarily together as a phrase.
    • Phrase-searching  = when you enter multiple words, your results will contain only that phrase.
       
  • Most search tools default to keyword-searching. This includes Primo Search, EBSCOhost databases, and ProQuest databases (also Google and Google Scholar).
  • Example: If you type in lung cancer, you will get results equivalent to searching lung AND cancer. If you wish to search for the phrase <lung cancer>, you need to type in "lung cancer".
     
  • Some databases, eg Ovid databases, default to phrase-searching.

Example: If you type in lung cancer, you will get the phrase <lung cancer>. If you wish to search for the keywords lung and cancer, you need to type in lung AND cancer.

Database records consist of fields that contain specific pieces of bibliographic information.

Common fields include:

  • Author(s)
  • Article title
  • Journal title
  • Date/year of publication
  • Subject headings
  • Abstract (summary).

Most databases will default to searching in all the main fields (see Database Platforms below), but changing this to search only in a specific field, or fields, can give you more precise results.

For topic searching, it's a good idea to search in the Subject field, but searching in the Title field can work quite well too. If you are searching for an author, you can search only in the Author field; if you are searching for a publication, you can search only in the Publication (also known as the Source) field.

To find the various fields in which you can search, look for drop-down boxes or menus. Here's the EBSCOhost Advanced Search screen.

The EBSCOHost advanced search screen allows you to select which field to search and which Boolean operators you'd like to use

You can combine search terms, search operators, and field searching to build quite complex searches, and get precise results:

The EBSCOHost advanced search screen also allows you to change the scope of your search easily

For information on searching using a thesaurus, see Using a thesaurus.

So far, we have looked at how search operators, truncation, keyword- and phrase-searching, and field searching can narrow or broaden your search.

Search limiters are another important way to narrow a search, and most databases offer a range of limiters that you can use as part of your search, or that you can apply after you have your results. In the latter case, they are usually called refiners or filters, because they refine/filter your results.

Common limiters include:

  • Full text
  • Date
  • Peer-Reviewed
  • Language.

Other limiters will be available according to the subject content of the database, but might include:

  • Publication type
  • Document type
  • Humans
  • Evidence-based practice.

To find limiters to add to your search, look for tick-boxes and drop-down menus on the main search page. To find refiners to refine your results, look for lists to the left or right of your results list:

Limiters are available in most database searches as dropdown menus or check boxes

Searching in the 4 Main Database Platforms - Choose from the links below

EBSCOhost is a platform for about 30 databases covering most of the subjects taught at CSU. It includes a number of subject-specific databases, plus the multi-subject database Academic Search Complete.

In EBSCOhost, you can change from one database to another, or select multiple databases, by clicking on Choose Databases above the search boxes.

When you go to an EBSCOhost database, you should be in the Advanced Search screen.

EBSCOhost defaults to a keyword-search. If you type in ... tertiary education, this will search for tertiary AND education. To search for the phrase tertiary education, you need to enclose the words in double quotation marks ... "tertiary education".

The field(s) to be searched defaults to Select a Field (optional). This includes the main fields in the records. This varies from database to database but usually includes author, title, subject/keywords, and abstract. To specify a field to be searched, use the drop-down menu.

EBSCOhost defaults to sorting results by Relevance.

To see more information about each item, click on the Preview button to the right of the record. To add it into a folder, click on the Add to Folder button beside the Preview button.

To see the full record, and access various tools, click on the title of the item.

In EBSCOhost databases, the title of the item appears at the top of each brief record. You can click on it to go to the full record.

CSU Library has put together a series of subject packages of EBSCOhost databases including:

ProQuest is a platform for nearly 100 databases covering most of the subjects taught at CSU. The database menu is organised in a hierarchical structure, with many of the top-level databases consisting of subsidiary databases.

ProQuest databases should default to the Advanced Search screen.

ProQuest defaults to a keyword-search. This means that if you wish to search for the keyword tertiary and the keyword education, you should type in tertiary education. If you wish to search for the specific phrase tertiary education, you should type in "tertiary education".

ProQuest defaults to searching in Anywhere except full-text

ProQuest defaults to sorting your results by Relevance.

To see, and go back to, the results of previous searches, click on the clock icon (Recent Searches) at the top right of screen. 

When you are in any ProQuest database, you can change the database(s) you are searching by clicking on the Change Databases link.

Informit is a platform for nearly 100 databases which have mainly Australian content. But only some of the databases contain full-text content: many are simply indexes. On the other hand, the databases with "Collection" in the title are entirely full-text.

To change from one database to another, or to select multiple databases, click on Change Databases above the search boxes. You can select databases by title, by full-text content, or by subject.

Informit databases should default to the Advanced Search screen.

In Advanced Search, you can specify the field(s) to be searched, and whether your search will be a keyword-search (All terms) or a phrase-search (Exact phrase). You can also specify that your search terms are combined with the OR operator (Any terms).

Informit defaults to sorting your results by Date (newest first). You can change this to Relevance.

To see, and go back to the results of, previous searches, click on the Search History link in the black bar across the top of the screen.

The Informit advanced search screen has multiple boxes for search terms and ways to limit your results

Ovid is a platform with lots of databases and with subject strengths in health and medicine, nursing, psychology, and earth sciences. It includes the databases MEDLINE, a number of EBM Reviews databases, PsycINFO, and CAB Abstracts.

In Ovid, you can change from one database to another, or select multiple databases from the menu, by clicking on Change in the Search panel.

Ovid databases should default to the Advanced Search screen. Here, the default is to a phrase search. If you wish to search for the keyword brain and the keyword injury, you should type in brain AND injury. If you wish to search for the specific phrase brain injury, you can type in brain injury (without quotation marks).

In Basic Search you can enter your topic in pretty much whatever words you like, and your results will be tagged and sorted by relevance.

Search History. Ovid always displays your previous searches in a table above the search box. If you can't see all of your previous searches, click on the Expand link at the top right of this table.

The Ovid search interface has options to search by keyword, author, title and journal, and to view your search history

Get better search results