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Advanced Internet and Database Searching: Overview

A worksheet to help you work your way through searching research databases

Developing a Focus: Refining your Research Topic

  • Start with a broad search your area of interest, then narrow your topic depending on what particularly intrigues you.
  • Use Reference Universe, or other reference sources, to get background information.
  • Identify authoritative sources through reference bibliographies.
  • Write as you go in order to get a clearer idea of what you want to say and to find gaps in content that need to be filled through additional research.

Combining Concepts

Logical operators, also called Boolean operators, serve to help you search synonyms together as well as separate different concepts.

Boolean OR, Venn Diagram OR

Expands your search.

Use with synonyms, such as those you listed above.

Any of the terms will be in the record.

Boolean AND, Venn Diagram AND

Narrows your search.

Use with different concepts.

All search terms must be in the record.

Boolean NOT, Venn Diagram NOT

Eliminates results.

Use this selectively.

It is often better to add more terms or use limits to narrow your search


The star * is the truncation symbol for most library databases.
Use it to find all words that start with those letters.

Truncation functions much like a Boolean "OR," as described above.

Histor* finds history, histories, historical, historians, etc.
A search for history* finds only history.



Searching on Their Terms

Most library databases assign subjects terms to help with searching. It is important to discover what they call what you want to find, so you can search on their terms.

For example, if you were looking for information about African Americans, you would use different subject headings depending upon the database.

  • Library Catalog: African Americans
  • PsycINFO: Blacks
  • America: History & Life:  African Americans, generally, but Black as a modifier to different groups of people (Black college students)


Concepts Subject Descriptors



Concepts Subject Descriptors



Concepts Subject Descriptors

Looking for Scholarly Books?

Not all publishers should be trusted equally. When searching the library catalog or WorldCat, limit to "university" as the publisher. This is not perfect, there are excellent non-academic publishers and poorly researched books produced by some universities; yet, it can be helpful.

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Research Librarian

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Rebecca Graff

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