Skip to main content

Non-Profit Leadership Resources: Capstone Project Resources

Sample Search in ABI/Inform database

Use the tabs in this box to walk through a sample search query.  This is meant to give you some ideas of how you can use our databases to search for materials, refine your results, and access items of interest. 

Step 1: Choose where to search

You saw some great resource suggestions on the previous pages of this guide. You can either choose to search in a subject-specific database related to business/management topics, or you can begin in FASTsearch. Remember, FASTsearch searches through  most of our database content at once, so it will usually take some refining to narrow in on the items you want.

For this sample search we will use ABI/Inform complete, a business database from ProQuest. To connect, first follow the 'databases' link on the main library website:

Then choose 'ABI/Inform' (or whichever resource you prefer) from the alphabetical list.

Before plugging in search terms, it can be a good idea to brainstorm some synonyms for the terms you plan to use.  For example, imagine you are researching social media as a marketing tool for nonprofits. Try jotting down a few alternative ways to describe each of your terms:

Social Media                                                           Marketing​                          

online social networks                                             advertising                      

twitter                                                                      public relations


Thinking of synonyms before-hand will let you find more results which are still relevant to your topic. You can always discover additional search language by looking at the keywords and subject headings used to describe the articles you find most useful.

You will usually want to use the 'Advanced Search' page (databases and FASTsearch have advanced search features). The advanced page will give you more control over your search, increasing your chances of finding relevant results. 

You can either use the pre-built structure in the database to enter your terms, or you can enter them all in one line.  We'll show an example of each. 

Pre-Built Structure

This strategy is particularly useful if you want to specify different search fields (i.e. author, title, abstract, etc.) for your terms:

Single Line

You can use this strategy if you're looking for all of your terms in the same field. When you start to use more advanced techniques, searching in a single line becomes a bit like building a math equation. Some researchers enjoy this strategy while others will prefer using set structures. 

Most databases, including FASTsearch, will provide options to narrow your results on the left side of the screen. Some of the most common ways to filter results are to limit to a certain content type (such as scholarly journals) or to limit to a certain date range (such as articles published in the last five years):

There are also more advanced filtering options. You may want to spend a little time getting familiar with these other filters and seeing how they can improve your results. Of particular note are the 'Subject' and 'Classification' filters.  If you click on the link to 'more options' you can select multiple items from these lists to include or exclude in your search, which is a quick way to target those items most relevant to your research:

You may have noticed that we enclosed the term "social media" in quotation marks in our sample search.  This is one of many quick search tips, called 'phrase searching', which can dramatically alter the results you find. This is a brief run-down of a few other tips, but we would recommend checking out either our Quick Tip Videos blog page or our Library Research Methods guide for full details. 

Phrase Searching

Enclose multi-word search terms in quotation marks to find exact phrases. Example: "social media".  If you do not enclose phrases in quotes, the database simply assumes you are looking for both terms, but it does not know you wish to find them together in a certain order.


Use an asterisk at the end of a root word to find multiple endings. You will place the asterisk at the point at which you may start seeing variation. For example: leader*.  This search would return results such as: leader, leaders, leadership.

Proximity Search

Find terms physically near each other in a record without specifying their order. Different databases use different syntax so check their help features. In ProQuest, you build a proximity search by connecting your terms with a capital 'N', a forward slash, and then a number representing how close together you want to find the terms. 

For example: organization* N/3 feedback

This search specifies that I would like to find a version of the word 'organization' within three words (or less) of the term 'feedback'. Some sample results from this search include things like:

  • organizational learning from performance feedback
  • feedback for practitioners and organizations
  • feedback into the organizational decision-making process

***It's important to remember that this search function only specifies how close you find the words, but not the context. It will be highly useful for some searches and may not be helpful for others, so you will only want to use it in some cases.


Remember those synonyms we brainstormed earlier? Nesting is a strategy that will allow you to search for multiple synonyms in one go so you don't have to run as many searches. To nest terms, you will enclose them in parentheses and separate them using the operator 'OR'. 

For example: ("social media" OR "online social networks" OR Twitter OR Facebook") 

The database knows that it can find any one of those terms to bring back a match. 

**Note, you will almost always nest terms and add in additional keywords.  You can see this in the image below:


Loading ...

Presentation Tools

Check out some of these tools for creating unique presentations and materials:


This presentation slide tool encourages you to use less text and instead focus on keywords and striking visuals.You can sign up for a free account on the web or download the app. Check out their intro video and their presentation gallery for ideas and inspiration.

Prezi’s unique functionality allows you to ‘zoom’ through your story or presentation. This tool is perfect for someone looking to show how a bigger picture or idea is broken down into multiple components. One of the best features of Prezi is that you can embed videos or video clips directly into your presentation. View their intro video and staff picks presentations to learn more.


Perhaps best-suited to the adventurous presenter, PowToon allows you to created animated videos to convey your message. This tool is ideal for someone wanting to express an idea or message in a short, engaging manner. If you're not quite ready for creating a video, they also offer PowToon Slides. Check out their YouTube Channel for tons of sample videos and ideas.