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OCTH 5903 - Research in Occupational Therapy: Searching Professional Databases

Tips for Searching a Database

There is a lot of content in this box, be sure to scroll down for additional tips/techniques.

  • Be prepared with synonyms for your search terms in case your original search produces limited results.  Use the "Subject Terms" or "Thesaurus" feature for the database you are searching for additional help with finding relevant subjects.
  • Pay attention to any search tips or help screens provided by each database.  Even experienced researchers (like professors and librarians!) can have trouble when dealing with a new interface.  Take the time to learn how to use the tool (database/print resource) -- it will help you to avoid frustration later.
  • Boolean Searching is the most common database search technique. 
    • Boolean Operators (AND, OR, NOT)
      • Use AND to focus your search and combine different aspects of your topic.
        • Example: global warming AND agriculture will return only those articles that contain both terms.
      • Use OR to expand your search and find synonyms/related terms.
        • Example: global warming OR greenhouse effect with return any article that contains either term.
      • Use NOT to exclude a word or phrase from your search.
        • Example: agriculture NOT soybean will return articles on every form of agriculture except soybean.
  • Phrase searching is another useful technique for narrowing a search to retrieve the most relevant results. 
    • Use quotation marks (") to search for an exact phrase.
      • Example: "greenhouse gas emissions" will only return hits on the exact phrase (not the individual words).
  • Wildcard and Truncation are also  useful techniques for expanding a search to retrieve all relevant results.
    • Use a question mark (?) or a pound sign (#) to act as wildcard characters.
      • To use the ? wildcard, enter your search terms and replace each unknown character with a ?.
        • Example: ne?t would retrieve articles containing neat, nest, or next.
      • To use the # wildcard, enter the # in places where an alternate spelling may contain an extra character.
        • Example: am#eba would retrieve articles containing ameba or amoeba.
    • Use an asterisk (*) to find variations of a word.  Put an asterisk following the root of a word to find all variations of that word (including singular as well as plural).
      • Example: biolog* will retrieve documents containing the words biology, biological, biologist . . .
  • Grouping/Nesting
    • Use parentheses to assist is grouping like concepts together in the search string.
      • Example: saturn NOT (automobile or car) AND gases will return articles on Saturn, the planet, not Saturn the car manufacturer.
  • Proximity Operators
    • You can use a proximity search to search for two or more words that occur within a specified number of words (or fewer) of each other in the databases. Proximity searching is used with a Keyword or Boolean search.
    • The proximity operators are composed of a letter (N or W) and a number (to specify the number of words). The proximity operator is placed between the words that are to be searched, as follows:
      • Near Operator (N) - N5 finds the words if they are within five words of one another regardless of the order in which they appear.
        • For example, type tax N5 reform to find results that would match tax reform as well as reform of income tax.
      • Within Operator (W) - In the following example, W8 finds the words if they are within eight words of one another and in the order in which you entered them.
        • For example, type tax W8 reform to find results that would match tax reform but would not match reform of income tax.
      • In addition, multiple terms can be used on either side of the operator. See the following examples:
        • (baseball or football or basketball) N5 (teams or players)
        • oil W3 (disaster OR clean-up OR contamination)
  • You can always contact your friendly librarian for help:

If you need a better understanding of Boolean logic and searching, here are a few resources to help:

Scholarly, Peer-Reviewed Journals versus Popular Magazines and Trade Publications

Scholarly versus Popular

While Wikipedia can sometimes be a good starting point for research, it is not considered "scholarly."  If you are you having trouble distinguishing peer-reviewed and scholarly journals from trade publications or popular magazines, the document located at link below will help to explain the differences.  

  • Take this 9 question quiz to test your knowledge of the difference between scholarly vs. popular publications.

Review versus Research

It is also important to be able to distinguish between review articles and research articles. A review article’s primary purpose is summarize, analyze, discuss, and provide an overview of previously published work on a topic, not to present new research. A research article is designed to present new research, methods, and/or findings. Research articles often employ the IMRAD (Introduction, Methods, Research, and Discussion) format. Below are a few articles of interest on this topic.

Before You Throw in the Towel

Have you tried...

  • using basic keywords vs. phrases?
  • the database thesaurus for additional search terms (synonyms)?
  • quotations to search for a specific phrase?   
  • using AND, OR, and NOT (Boolean Operators) to connect more than one search term?
  • adding a * to the root of the word to truncate and search all related forms? Example: psych* = psychology, psychological, psychologists, etc.

Journal Article Categories

From the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th edition, chapter 1:

Journal articles are usually reports of empirical studies, literature reviews, theoretical articles, methodological articles, or case studies.

Categories of Journal Articles:

  • Empirical Studies- original research, including secondary analyses that test hypotheses by presenting novel analyses of data not considered or addressed previously. Sections: introduction, method, results, discussion
  • Literature Reviews - critical evaluations of material that has already been published. Authors of literature reviews organize, integrate and evaluate previously published material and consider the progress of research in clarifying a problem.
  • Theoretical Articles - authors draw on existing research to advance theory. Authors trace the development of theory and expand and refine theoretical constructs.
  • Methodological Articles - generally present new approaches and methods or modify existing methods of research to the academic community.
  • Case Studies - reports of case materials obtained by working with an individual, group, community or organization. Casse studies generally illustrate a problem and indicate a means of solving a problem.
  • Other Types of Articles - brief reports, commentary, replies on previously published articles, book reviews, obituaries, letter to the editor, etc.

Finding Full-Text Articles

Here is a tutorial on how to find full-text articles.