Skip to Main Content

English-Writing Enhancement-0123: Database Search Tips

Database Search Tips

  1. Be prepared with synonyms in case your original search produces no results. If the database offers a link to a thesaurus or subject terms tab, use it to locate additional or related words for your search terms.
  2. Pay attention to search tips or help screens provided by each database. Take the time to learn how to use the tool - it will help you to avoid frustration!
  3. Remember that most databases allow for Boolean Searching (see the video in this guide). Use and to narrow, or to expand, not to exclude. Truncation is also useful for bringing back all relevant results. For example, type counsel* to bring back documents containing the words counsel, counseling, counselor...
  4. Review the database search screen for a Thesaurus or Subject Terms tab or link.
  5. Review articles, the references with this article, look for sections listing key words or subject terms, and relationships to your focus on the topic.


Depending on the database, it may offer a variety of ways to limit your results:

  • Full Text
  • Scholarly or Peer Reviewed
  • Publication  or Document Type (journal articles, book reviews, reports)
  • Published Date

For articles that are not available in full text, use the InterLibrary Loan service.

Boolean Operators - Tutorial

Controlled Vocabulary

Most databases use a controlled vocabulary to organize information and make browsing more efficient and specific to chosen terms. When building your search string, consider keywords, synonyms or related terms. See several examples in the table below.

Subject Terms Related Terms
Cyberbullying School bullying or Internet bullying
Computer crimes Cybercriminals
Digital media Digital communications


Also, combine or group terms or concepts using the Boolean operator "AND" to refine your search string: cyberbullying  AND social media or try the search string: social media AND fake news . Check to see if the database offers a Thesaurus or a Subject Terms tab or link. For instance, the database Academic Search Premier offers a "subject terms" tab, and the ERIC database features a "thesaurus" tab, while ProQuest offers a "thesaurus" link.  Enter terms in the Browsing box to see how the database recognizes them.

When a good article is found, check to see how it is indexed (what subject terms are used). For example, using the general database Academic Search Premier and the search term "cyberbullying," the article for "Cyberbullying" Who Hurts, and Why" (see the example below) provides additional subject terms for consideration to either create a new search or to combine with the original search term.
Screenshot of Cyberbullying article subject terms

Evaluating Websites

Please see information guide provided by UMass Amherst Libraries about College Writing and Evaluating Websites, Evaluating Resources on the Web, and Evaluating Videos. See link below.

Google and Google Scholar