Database Search Strategies

Once you have chosen a database to search for journal articles on your topic, here are some strategies for creating an effective search:

Step 1: Write your topic out in sentence or question form

How did Aboriginals participate in the fur trade in Canada?

Step 2: Break your topic sentence up into main ideas or keywords

aboriginals, fur trading, canada

Step 3: Think of synonyms or alternate words to describe each concept

aboriginals - natives, indians

Tip: Use dictionaries, encyclopedias, or a thesaurus to find alternate words.

Step 4: Add "Boolean operators" (AND, OR) to make a complete search statement

  • Use AND to limit or narrow your search to results that mention all of your keywords.
  • Use OR to broaden your search to include synonyms.

aboriginal AND fur trading AND canada
aboriginals OR natives OR indians

Step 5: Add wildcards to search for all possible word endings

A wildcard is usually represented by a *.  This is also called truncation.

aboriginal* OR native* OR indian*

Step 6: Evaluate your results

If you are finding too many or too few results, try these tricks:

To broaden your search (find more):

  • Find synonym for each keyword.
  • Search for a broader concept ('dog' instead of 'poodle').
  • Use wildcards/truncation.

To narrow your search (few fewer):

  • Add another concept or idea to your search with AND.
  • Use more specific words ('poodle' instead of 'dog').
Content last reviewed: July 31, 2018