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Library DIY: Starting your Research

General Search Tips

1. Learn about database filtering tools and options

Each database offers slightly different tools and options to help you focus your search. You may be able to filter the results by date range, document type/format, specific journals, etc. Many databases allow you to continue adding to and revising your search filters within the results, which can be very helpful!

2. Play around with words and phrases:

  • Generate a list of keywords and phrases, including synonyms, and try different words, or combinations of words, to get new and different results!
  • Pay attention to the words scholars are using to talk about the topic in the titles and abstracts of the articles you have already found. Try including those words in your searches.


3. Try using some advanced searching techniques

  • Put a phrase in “quotation marks” to search for that exact phrase. This means fewer, more focused results!
  • Use wildcards by typing the * in place of one or more letters. For example librar* searches for any of the words: library, libraries, librarians, librarians, librarianship
  • Use Boolean operators

Graham, Rebecca. "Boolean Searching" YouTube, uploaded July 2019.

4. Change up where you search

Every database has different content - they aren't all the same! Try plugging your search terms into a different general or discipline-specific database to see what you find. If you aren't sure which of our online resources to use, contact John Garrison for help!


5. Go beyond the search bar

  • Check out the bibliography/works cited section of your most helpful source. Search for those titles in WISE
  • Check out other articles/books that have cited your most helpful source. Search Google Scholar for the title of your source and click the "cited by" linkGoogle scholar search with Cited by link (below title and summary) highlighted
  • Use the suggested index terms - you can either add these to your keyword list or in some databases, you can click on the index terms to explore other articles about that topic.
  • Find other articles/books by the same author - academics typically write multiple things about their special focus/topic of interest.
  • Look at the other articles in the same journal issue - sometimes issues have a theme and all/most of the articles are related.