Advanced search strategies

The information on the previous page helped you to plan and to start searching for information in Primo and databases.

On this page you'll find a range of advanced search strategies that can help you further refine and focus your searching, to lead you to more relevant resources.

Field searching

Records in library databases are comprised of fields containing specific pieces of bibliographic information. Limiting your search to specific fields can yield more precise results. Common fields include:

  • author
  • title
  • journal title
  • abstract
  • publisher
  • subject/descriptor

Searching within the abstract fields (AB) can be particularly helpful. This is because abstracts, as summaries of articles, are very keyword-rich: If you get a 'hit' on a keyword in an abstract you will usually find the article is relevant. The abstract is also a good source to find additional keywords you can use in your search strategies.

Facets and limiters

Most databases allow you to limit your search or refine your results set by facets. The options will depend on the database you are searching.

Common facets include:

  • date
  • language
  • subject area
  • geographical area
  • material type
  • journal title

In many cases, you can also limit a search to scholarly or peer reviewed articles.

Use the material or publication type options to refine your results to particular resources types including:

  • reviews
  • market and industry reports
  • government reports
  • conference papers
  • journal articles
  • trade publications
  • case studies
  • thesis

Thesaurus and 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

A proximity search forces a database to find results where one search term appears within a certain number of words of another search term. The proximity operator varies according to the database.

Examples from an EBSCOhost database:

N=near

W=within

If you search for You will get results for
shoreline N3 erosion Results where shoreline is within 3 words of erosion in any order
shoreline W3 erosion Results where shoreline is within 3 words of erosion in the same order

Tracking Citations

Once you have found a good article, you can use its citations or reference list to find additional resources.

Remember you will still need to evaluate any resource you find using these methods.

Footnote chasing

Check the reference lists of articles you have already found to find related readings. This will lead you to resources that are older, so keep this in mind if your lecturer would like you to use recent material.

Citation searching

Check who has cited the article you've already found. This will lead you to material that is newer.

Some, but not all, databases have a feature where you can see who has cited the resource at which you're looking.

The database is unlikely to show you every citing article. This is because no database will contain every resource written on a topic. A database can only compare its own records.

You can also use our citation databases to undertake footnote chasing and citation searching.