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Database Search Tips: Search Strategies

A guide to database search tips designed and created by Clark Librarians

Search Strategies

From Idea to Search Statement

1. Write down your idea in a sentence or two.

screen shot demonstrating writing down idea

2. Cross out the fuzzy words and little words

3. Underline the words that remain. These words are your starting concepts.

4. Put an "and" between the concepts.

5. Add a touch of class to your search. Put quotation marks around the phrases so those words stay together.

The basic search statement we've written can be used in just about any database. Your search words in a database search box is called a search statement. Here's an example:

search statement in database


Make your words work harder!

This search can be better just by using another search trick: truncating. Truncating means using a symbol to replace word endings. With the symbol in place, any letters can be at the end of the word. In most databases the symbol for open, right-handed truncation (which means any number of letters tacked on to the end of the word) is an asterisk (*), or shift+8 on your keyboard.

Here's what happens to the words in the sample search when we apply the truncation symbol:

Example of truncation. The word governmen* can be government, governments. Put an asterisk on promot* to get promote, promotes, promoting, promotes. Put an asterisk at the end of technolog* to get technology, technological, technologies. Put an asterisk on the end of fuel to get fuel or fuels.


You can see from the example that with one single keystroke, the * symbol, you can go from searching a single word to searching many variations of the word.

In any database, look for Search Tips or Help to see what symbols the database uses for truncation. You'll probably find that, in addition to truncating, the database offers other techniques for manipulating words.

Any librarian will tell you that the key to good research is having a good command of the words related to your topic. The more words you have, the more successful you'll be when you search for information.

Collecting keywords

Up to now we've been using the original words we started with as search terms. We added the ending variations by using the truncation symbol. As you learn about your topic, you'll find more words, perhaps better words, that can lead to more successful searches.

keep a keyword list and add to it as you research your topic. The image shows alternatives for the four search words: 1. government: federal, ebergy policy. 2. Promote: encourage, incentives, fund, funding. 3. Technology: research, development. 4. Fossil fuel: energy, solar, wind, fuel cell, alternative fuel, biofuel, renewable energy.

As you build your keyword list, be aware of the relationships of words to each other. For example, the words solar and wind are more narrow, or focused, than the word energy. The word energy is a broader term than the phrase renewable energy. Study the example below.

demonstrates broader and narrower terms described in the text.

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