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Family Studies: Research Tips - Database Searching

Search Strategy Tips

Search strategy tips
Strategy How to Use the Tip
Keyword searching

Similar to "Google-like" searching where the database will retrieve results based on the terms you enter

Does not take into consideration the context of those terms

Typically retrieves several results, although many may not be relevant to the topic

Keyword searching is very flexible and is a good way to begin a search, especially if you are unsure of the correct terminology to use.  As you begin reading through your results, you may notice trends and patterns in terminology that you can then apply and adapt to your search strategy.  

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators provide a logical way to combine keyword or subject heading terms using AND, OR, or NOT

"AND" will narrow your search by combining one of more terms together - marijuana AND medical use

"OR" will broaden your search by retrieving results on any of the terms you enter - (marijuana OR cannabis OR cannabinoids)

"NOT" will exclude designated terms from your results - marijuana NOT substance abuse

Grouping or Nesting

Use of parentheses will group desired search terms together in combination with appropriate Boolean operators:

(dementia OR "Alzheimer's disease") AND ("fall prevention" OR "fall risk assessment") 

Phrase Searching

Use of quotes will tell the database to retrieve results with that exact phrase:

"Algase Wandering Scale" 

Subject Heading Searching

A targeted, specific way to search using a database's built-in controlled vocabulary 

Various databases have their own subject headings - i.e. CINAHL Headings in CINAHL and the Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) in MEDLINE

Controlled vocabulary subject headings function like a thesaurus and will take into consideration synonyms, abbreviations, and variations in spelling

Typically retrieves fewer results than keyword searching, yet results are oftentimes more relevant 

Truncation/Stemming and Wildcards

Most databases allow the use of truncation/stemming and wildcard symbols to replace unknown characters, multiple spellings, or unknown endings.

For example, EbscoHost databases such as CINAHL, truncation is represented by an asterisk (*) and the ? and #  are the wildcard symbols. Please note that neither the truncation or wildcard symbol can be used as the first character in a search term.

To use the truncation feature use an asterisk * after the root of a word to search for various word endings:

nurs* will find nurse, nurses, nursing

anesth* will find anesthesiology, anesthetist, anesthesiologist 

To use the ? wildcard symbol, enter your search term and replace each unknown character with a ?. This will find citations with that term with the ? replaced by a letter. Example: ne?t will find citations containing neat, nest, or next.

To use the #wildcard symbol, enter your search term, adding the # in places where an alternate spelling may contain an extra character. Example: colo#r will find colour or color.