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Partner Students: Database Search Tips


  • There are several common search techniques that you can apply to almost any database - including the databases linked to on this LibGuide.
  • Searching databases full of journal articles is different to searching an internet search engine such as Google, so it is important to be aware of the most common search techniques.
  • The techniques described in this section will enable you to quickly retrieve relevant information from the thousands of records in a database.
  • You can combine the tips on this page to create highly effective searches.
  • If you search a database and do not get the results you expect, ask your librarian for help.

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators form the basis of database logic. You do not need to use them on sites such as Google, but they are a requirement for academic databases full of journals.

In short, Boolean operators connect your search words together to either narrow or broaden your set of results. You can combine multiple Boolean operators to create more effective searches.

The three basic boolean operators are: ANDOR, and NOT.



Use AND in a search to:

  • narrow your results
  • tell the database that ALL search terms must be present in the resulting records
  • example: diet AND obesity: your results will include both words

Diet AND Obesity graph



Use OR in a search to:

  • connect two or more similar concepts (synonyms)
  • broaden your results, telling the database that ANY of your search terms can be present in the resulting records
  • example: diet OR nutrition

Diet OR Nutrition graphic



Use NOT in a search to:

  • exclude words from your search
  • narrow your search, telling the database to ignore concepts that may be implied by your search terms
  • example:  obesity NOT child

Obestiy NOT Child diagram


Keywords spelt out on scrabble tiles

Keywords are words or short phrases that represent the main ideas in your research topic or question.

In search engines such as Google, you can search using full sentences. However, the Library databases are not as smart as Google and do not understand full sentences, spelling mistakes or conversational language. This means that when you are searching, you need to break your topic into keywords instead - you have to consider the words that authors are using to write about a topic. 

For example:

If you are writing an assignment on the impact of diet on child obesity, your key concepts would be: diet, child, obesity, child obesity.

For each key concept, try to think of as many similar or related words as possible. This can include synonyms, antonyms, and specific concepts within a topic. When you search for sources using a range of different keywords, you will find more and more search results that are relevant to your topic.

Once you have found your keywords, you can combine them using the Boolean Operators AND, OR and NOT, as described in another box on this page.


Tree pictureTruncation is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings.

  • To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol (normally an asterisk) at the end.
  • The database will return results that include the word that you entered, plus any ending.

For example:

nurs*        finds:  nurse, nurses, nursing

child*        finds:  child, children, childhood, childbirth

manag*    finds:  manage, manages, manager, management etc.

midwi*      finds:  midwife, midwives, midwifery


Tip! Be careful not to truncate too soon.

    e.g. leg* or comp* will retrieve too many false results

Phrase Searching

Some databases assume that words typed next to each other should be searched as phrases. However, many databases do not do this. Most academic databases automatically put a Boolean AND between your search terms: meaning that all the words used will be present in your search results, but they may not necessarily be adjacent to each other. When this happens, your search results may not be relevant to your topic.

To avoid this happening, you can use "double quotation marks" to keep words together when you search.

For example:

   later life

    maternity leave

    living standards OR standards of living