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Searching Tips & Strategies

Easy steps to search like a pro. Learn these and safe yourself time and energy--and get better results!

Illustration of Database Guidance

For the following keyword search,


below on the left is the database's controlled vocabulary and limits, where you can narrow your results, or use the terms to start a new search.


Let the Database Guide You

Not sure how to begin searching your topic (what terms to use)?

Enter some words in the search boxes and then use the way the database categorizes the results--and the results themselves--to give yourself ideas: expanding, narrowing, or reformulating your search terms.

For example:

  • When you start searching in a database, you may not know what the controlled vocabulary is for that topic in that database. 

The best way to proceed is to start with a keyword search (the default option in databases),  using Boolean logic and truncation to combine your terms.

Then, use the limits and controlled vocabulary (subject terms or descriptors) the database provides. Depending on the database, these might be displayed in a sidebar on the left or right of the list of results.  

Limits include:

  • Date ranges 
  • Limit to Scholarly/Peer Reviewed
  • Other publication types and formats
  • Items that are full text in the database you are searching
  • Geographical location


Narrow your current search or start a new search using the subject terms. Doing so will help increase the relevancy of the articles retrieved. (See illustration in the box to the left.)



When you click on a particular record, the controlled vocabulary will be included in the full citation.  There may also be an abstract, or summary, that is another potential source of keywords or concepts for you to search.