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Getting Started

Getting to the databases & formulating your search

Keyword Search

Free text, natural language or keyword searches are used with computerized databases and search engines.

  • Searches any and all fields of a computer record for the term
  • Every article that mentions the word will be retrieved


+ Excellent for new concepts or terminology
+ Will retrieve lots of results


- Must think of all other synonyms
- Results will often not be about your topic (your term was only mentioned in the article)

Subject Search

Controlled vocabulary, descriptors, index terms or subject headings are used in computerized databases.  Articles are analyzed and the content is matched to a limited number of specified terms.

  • Searches only the field specified by the search (subject, descriptor, etc.)


+ Results will be about your topic
+ No need to think of other synonyms


- If you don’t use the correct term, you could miss some or all pertinent information

Search Tips

Use both methods for the best results

Begin with a keyword search.

Browse the results and look at the full record of an especially appropriate article.

Scroll down to the subject headings/descriptors.

Click on the best subject heading/descriptor link.

Write down other listed subject terms and continue searching with those terms.

Expand searches to find more

Try one or all of these strategies

Change from a subject search to a keyword or default search

Add different key concepts together with an OR.

ex: women and Iraq ex: (women or woman or females) and Iraq

Use a thesaurus to find different key concepts.

Use a broader term.

Use a truncation symbol to search for a base word with all of its various endings.  Please keep in mind that truncation symbols often vary in databases and search engines.

ex: comput* retrieves records containing the following words: computer, computers, computing, computerization

Concepts and Terms

Key Concept Additional Terms Type of Term

Human Beings
Muslim Women

Broader term
Broader term
Narrower term
Narrower term
Iraq Name of cities
Middle East
Narrower term
Broader term
Religion Muslims
Narrower term
Related term

Narrow searches to find less

Try one or all of these strategies

Change from a keyword or default search to a subject search.

Add another different key concept to your search.

(ex: women and Iraq) (ex: women and Iraq and religion)

Use a narrower or related term.

Limit your search to find less

Limiting your search narrows the search and decreases the number of results.  Use one limiter at a time.  Limiters vary by database.

Limit Reason for limiting Example
Publication year/date Limit for current events or historical events if this is an important aspect of your research project.

Previous six months

Material type Limit results to material type.

Book review
Literature review

Language Limit results to only those languages you can read.