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Researching and Writing a Paper: How to Search a Database

This guide is about how to start, research, write, and format, a paper.

This page and its sub-pages discuss how to search a database.

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Boolean Searching

Boolean Operators
AND Use AND to retrieve both search terms.
OR Use OR to retrieve either search term(s).
NOT Use NOT to exclude search term(s).
" " Use " " to keep the order of words or phrases intact.
( ) Use ( ) to organize the order of relationships in your search.
* Use * to the end of a term to search all ending of the root word, e.g. govern* retrieves government, governmental, govern, governs, governor.
? Use ? to find alternate spellings, e.g. wom?n retrieves woman or women, also differences between British and American spellings, e.g. behav?r retrieves behavior or behaviour.

More tips for searching within search engines & databases:

  • Text is not case sensitive (but check for misspellings).
  • Most search engines do not search punctuation or certain words, e.g. the, a, of, by.
  • Check the help section of the database or search engine, as advanced search options may differ.


Some Sample Searches (capitalization is for emphasis):

  • (Dog OR Cat) AND (Clown OR Janitor) will return every document that has either 'Dog' or 'Cat' in it, and which also have either 'Clown' or 'Janitor' in it.

  • Dog OR Cat AND Clown OR Janitor will return every document that has 'Dog' or ('Cat' and 'Clown') in them, and it will also return documents with 'Janitor' in them.

  • (Dog AND Cat) OR (Clown AND Janitor) will return every document that has both 'Dog' and 'Cat' in it, and it will also return every document with both 'Clown' and 'Janitor' in it.

  • Dog AND Cat OR Clown AND Janitor will return every document that has both 'Dog' and 'Cat' or 'Dog' and 'Clown' in them, and those two sets of documents will also have 'Janitor' in them.

  • "The Constitution of the United States" will return documents with the phrase 'The Constitution of the United States', it will not return documents with the phrase 'The United States Constitution'. Simply searching for The United States Constitution will bring you documents that have the words 'United', 'States', and 'Constitution' in them, individually scattered through the document.

  • Elephan*, for example, will bring up articles about Elephants, and it will bring up the extinct relatives of modern elephants because of their genera and family names: Elephantida, Elephantidae, Elephantimorpha, Elephantina, Elephantini, and Elephantoidea.

  • Sm?g will bring up articles about the collection of airborne pollutants called 'smog', and it will also bring up articles about the dragon Smaug from 'The Hobbit'.  Pin? will return articles with the word pins, pine, pink, pinafore, Pinatubo, pinball, pinch, and more.


Related Topic:

  • Drop down menus and check boxes help you be more specific with the database. Each selection in a dropdown menu (or checkbox) tells the database to look for your keywords in specific places (Title, Abstract, Author, Subject Heading, etc.) and/or to consider only documents that are 'full text', 'peer-reviewed', and so on.
  • This can save some time by focusing your results more tightly on your topic. You can also look for a specific article title or author, or limit your searches to a particular newspaper, journal, or magazine.
  • Title - Limits your search to results with the keyword or phrase in the Title of the article.
  • Abstract - Limits your search to results with the keyword in the Abstract of the article.
  • Subject - Limits your search to articles assigned the keyword or phrase as a subject.
  • And so on. Each database is different, but most all of them have a number of different ways to focus your search, or broaden your search and then focus it. Play around with the options, and please consult us whenever you feel at all frustrated (425-235-2331,


A downloadable PDF version of this is available below: