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WRIT 1120: Seminar in Research Writing: Search Strategies

How to Talk to Databases

When you search in a database, you need to use different search words than you would use in conversation; sentences or long phrases aren't as helpful in a database as they are in conversation.

Databases don't always use the words you would use when talking about something, either. Think nouns, not adjectives or verbs.

Lexipedia helps you find synonyms or other related words if you are having trouble thinking of alternate search words. 

Try using one of these Search Strategy sites to walk you through research beyond Google.

Too Many Results?

Too many results?

-- Narrow your search by making your search words more specific.

Instead of "world hunger," 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?

Not enough results, or not any?

-- Expand your search by broadening your search words.

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.

Read through one or more of the links in the How to Talk to Databases box in the other column for more tips.


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How to Organize What You Find

Once you have some articles and books, you will want to keep their information organized in case you want to use them in your assignments. The Research Worksheet link here gives tips on keeping your research tidy.

Also, when you use a database to find an article, jot down the name of the database--for example, Academic Search Complete or Nexis Uni--you will need it if you cite information from the article.