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 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 'Journals, Books & Databases' link on the main library website:
Then choose 'ABI/Inform' (or whichever resource you prefer) from the 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 executive coaching for human resources professionals. Try jotting down a few alternative ways to describe each of your terms. These might be synonyms or even related terms/concepts:
Executive Coaching Human Resources
mentoring employee development
Thinking of additional terms 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 on one line. We'll show an example of each. Keep the terms you brainstormed in mind, we'll look at how to use those soon.
This strategy is particularly useful if you want to specify different search fields (i.e. author, title, abstract, etc.) for your terms. It's also useful if you like using the line-by-line structure to help you stay organized:
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 is the 'Subject' filter. If you click on the link to 'more options' you can select multiple items from the 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 "human resources" 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.
Enclose multi-word search terms in quotation marks to find exact phrases. Example: "human resources". 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: coach*. This search would return results such as: coach, coaches, coaching.
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: coach* N/3 employees
This search specifies that I would like to find a version of the word 'coach' within three words (or less) of the term 'employee'. Some sample results from this search include things like:
***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: ("human resources" OR HR OR "employee development")
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:
If you're accumulating a lot of resources it can be nice to use a citation management tool to help you get organized. There are some great, freely available tools on the web:
Zotero is a free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share research. It is compatible with Macs and PCs and you can integrate it into MS Word. You can learn more by viewing their Quick Start Guide or check out the Zotero video tutorial series from the Fielding Library.
With the Mendeley Reference Manager, you can easily organize and search your personal library, annotate documents and cite as you write. Check out their Video Tutorials to learn more about the features of this great tool.