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Sustainability: How to Search Databases


Records in library databases are comprised of fields containing specific pieces of bibliographic information. Common fields include:

  • author
  • title
  • journal title
  • abstract
  • publisher
  • date/year of publication
  • subject/descriptor

Limiting your search to specific database fields can yield more precise results.

  • For instance, if you are looking for books by Adam Smith instead of about him, it is more efficient to limit your search to the author field.
  • To find various fields within a database, look for drop down boxes or menus to select the field you want to search. Then combine words and fields together with boolean operators, depending on how precise you want to be.
  • If you do not choose a specific field, the database usually reverts to a keyword search, where your words will be searched throughout the record.
  • If your keyword search retrieves too many records (more than 50), try narrowing your search to retrieve a more manageable result.
  • Information overload - too many results - can be a worse situation than finding only 10 very relevant results.


The key to being a savvy online searcher is to use common search techniques that you can apply to almost any database.

The techniques described in this section will enable you to quickly retrieve relevant information from the thousands of records in a database.

When you search a database and do not get the results you expect, ask for advice.  The Library staff is happy to help you find what you need.

Truncation and Wildcards


Truncation, also called stemming, is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings.

To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end. The database will return results that include any ending of that root word.


Examples: child* = child, childs, children, childrens, childhood

genetic* = genetic, genetics, genetically


Truncation symbols may vary by database; common symbols include: *, !, ?, or # (Check the database help screen to find out which symbols are used.)



Similar to truncation, wildcards substitute a symbol for one letter of a word.

  • This is useful if a word is spelled in different ways, but still has the same meaning.
  • Examples:
    wom!n = woman, women
    colo?r = color, colour

Wildcard symbols may vary by database; common symbols include: *, !, ?, or # (Check the database help screen to find out which symbols are used.)

If you need further assistance please contact:


Boolean Operators

The three basic Boolean operators are: AND, OR, and NOT.

The Boolean operators allow you:

  •  To focus a search, particularly when your topic contains multiple search terms. 
  • To connect various pieces of information to find exactly what you're looking for.

Use AND in a search to:

  • narrow your results
  • tell the database that ALL search terms must be present in the resulting records

Use OR in a search to:

  • connect two or more similar concepts (synonyms)
  • broaden your results, telling the database that ANY of your search terms can be present in the resulting records

Use NOT in a search to:

  • exclude words from your search
  • narrow your search, telling the database to ignore concepts that may be implied by your search terms