Advanced Database Searching

About Advanced Searching Techniques

Have you ever done a search in a database and come up with either too few or way too many results? 

This is very common. Databases hold hundreds or thousands of items and it can be hard to know how to search effectively. There are searching techniques that you can use to search more strategically and find more relevant results. Use this guide to learn these techniques and save yourself time while doing your research! You will find tips on Boolean, wildcard, truncation, and proximity searches that will aid in finding more relevant results.

Searching Techniques

Boolean operators consist of AND, OR, NOT which are used to restrict searches in different ways.

Searching with Boolean "AND"

The Boolean operator "AND" is used to join separate search terms together in order to find information that contains both search terms.

For example, if the search terms  "education reform" AND  "Texas" were to be searched, only results containing both search terms will appear.

 

This search would only bring up results that contain both search terms "education reform" and Texas.

Results that only contain the search term education reform with no mention of Texas will not be returned.

Also, results that only contain the search term Texas with no mention of education reform will not be return.

Searching with Boolean "OR"

The Boolean operator "OR" is used between two separate search terms in order to find any information on either search term. For example, if the search term "education reform" OR the search term "Texas"  were to be searched, all results containing either search term will appear.

This search would bring up results that contain either search terms education reform OR Texas education. All results that contain the search term education reform will be returned. All results that contain the search term Texas education will be returned. This will give you the largest number of results.

Searching with Boolean "NOT"

The Boolean operator "NOT" is used to specify which search term you want to exclude from the information you are searching. For example, if the search terms "education reform" NOT "Texas" were to be searched, only "education reform" results not containing "Texas" will appear.

This search would bring up results that contain the search term education reform and have no mention of Texas.

You can add special symbols called "wildcards" to a search term in order to receive more results. Often times this is used if you're not familiar with a spelling, a word has multiple spellings, or you're trying to recall specific information. Different search tools, databases, and database providers utilize different wildcards.

One or No Character

To search one or more unknown characters, you can use a question mark. For example, you could type in "flavo?r" in the search bar.

A search box with the text flavo?r

For example, the search above will result in all occurrences of "flavour" or "flavor".

This means that the wildcard character either represents a letter or no letter at all.

Exactly One Character

A search box with the text inauguration b?ll

If you have a specific citation for an article and you're not sure if part of the citation contains "ball" or "bill", you can use exactly one wildcard character, b?ll  to represent the unknown letter.

Any search terms containing "inauguration" will be returned along with "ball", "bill", "bell", "bull", or any acronyms fitting that criteria.

One or Many Character

A search bar with ph*ic within

The search "ph*ic" may return results containing the words "physiologic", "phonetic", or "phlegmatic".

Some databases allow you to use the single character wildcard multiple times to represent letters in a search. Searches for b??k may result in "book", beak", or "back"

Truncation allows you to search various forms of a word by finding alternate endings.

The wildcard character is placed at the end of the first few letters of a search term or at the end of its root. A root is the base or most simplified form of a word.

searchbox truncation example

For example, using the search terms " medical diagnosis amb* "  may find information containing "ambulatory", "amblyopia", "ambient" relating to medical or diagnosis resources.

Each database or database provider utilizes different wildcard characters and may have restrictions such as searching no less than 3 letters to achieve results.

Stemming

Some databases regard stemming as a specialized form of truncation that finds related words of the root such as plural and grammatical forms, as well as different endings.

searchbox stemming example

For example, using the search term " person# ", it may result in "people", as well as "person", "personalize", "personable", "persona", and "personal".

Proximity searching allow you to specify how close a search term appears in relation to another term contained in the of resources you find.

Proximity operators are shorthand notations used during a search that usually has a number to indicate how close search terms should appear.

There are two main proximity operators, NEAR and WITHIN.  Each database may use a different notation to represent these operators.

NEAR

The NEAR proximity operator is used when you want to find the occurrence of search terms close  to a specified number of words, in no particular order.

For example, searching "technology N3 conference" finds all occurrences of the terms "technology and "conference" that are in 3 words of each other.

proximity NEAR search example

Results may yield:  "technology conference", "conference of technology", "conference dealing with technology", etc.

Each database may use a different notation to represent this operator.

WITHIN

The WITHIN proximity operator is used when you want to find the occurrence of search terms close  to a specified number of words, in a specific order.

For example, searching "hypertension W5 diabetes" finds all occurrences of the terms "hypertension" followed by "diabetes" within  5 words of each other, in that particular order.

proximity within searchbox example

Results may yield: "hypertension with juvenile diabetes", "hypertension in adult onset diabetes",  "hypertension may lead to a predisposition for diabetes", etc.

Each database may use a different notation to represent this operator.