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WRIT 1110: Seminar in Academic Writing: Search Strategies

The resources listed on this page will help you to become familiar with your University Libraries at BGSU. If you have questions about the Library, feel free to speak with a librarian in person at the Research and Information Desk.

How to Talk to Databases

Obviously, when you use Google, you can type a sentence or question and retrieve relevant results. Databases operate differently than search engines, so they require a different search strategy for a few different reasons.

First, as you conduct research in library databases, you are taking part in an ongoing scholarly conversation. Scholars and professionals often use specialized vocabulary that you may not use in everyday conversation. If you're using different language than the professionals use, you may be missing out on a lot of great information. 

Second, databases are more structured than internet search engines. In a search engine, your search terms can match words in the full text or the entire web site. In a database, your search terms need to match words in the data that describe the article such as the article title, the journal title, and the abstract (overview) of the article, not necessarily the full text.

Thus, we recommend that you:

  • carefully select the key concepts from your research question and combine those as keywords to search in a database
  • use the worksheet labeled 'generating keywords' on this page to brainstorm for search terms

The resources below provide further information about how to talk to databases.

Too Many Results?

Narrow Your Search

"World hunger" is very broad; what aspect of world hunger are you interested in? Specific parts of the world or a country? Are you interested in causes of hunger, such as drought or famine?

Add these other concepts to your search by using the word AND to include more concepts.

Use NOT to eliminate undesirable results (for example, when searching for information about penguins, you might need to type NOT Pittsburgh, unless you are a hockey fan).

Let the database help you! Databases come equipped with options that let you slim down your results list. Look on the left or right of a results page for "limits" or "options" and limit by a more specific topic or date.

Not enough results, or not any?

Expand Your Search

Think of alternate words, or synonyms, for your search words, and add them to your search box with OR. 

For example. cars OR automobiles OR vehicles.

If you do find an article you like, look at the citation of the article to see what keywords the database or author used and try those as search words.

Organize Your Research Process