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.
Remember that most databases allow for Boolean (AND/OR/NOT) Searching.
Contact a subject specialist librarian for help if you have questions:
Boolean Operators (AND, OR, NOT)
[Note that not all databases support all of these modifiers. Check the database help or ask a librarian if it's not working as expected.]
A 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).
Useful techniques for expanding a search to retrieve all relevant results. Some examples:
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 . . .
Use parentheses to assist in 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.
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)
Frequently, journal articles are peer-reviewed or refereed. What does it mean to be peer-reviewed or refereed?
A peer-reviewed journal is one that is reviewed by persons who are not members of the editorial board, and who are not paid employees of the journal. The reviewers are “peers” of the authors in the sense that they have comparable academic or professional experience, and are thus qualified to meaningfully critique the quality of the article. The decision whether or not to publish an article normally depends primarily on the judgment of the reviewers, though the editors arbitrate between--and sometimes override—the reviewers’ decisions. The purpose of a peer review system is to ensure an objective standard of quality in articles accepted for publication, which does not depend merely on the subjective preferences of the editorial staff (as long as the articles are consistent with the goals of the journal).
Refereed is another name for peer-review, as the peers who review the article serve as a sort of referee.
The peer-reviewed label means literally that a panel of independent scholars have recommended the article for publication.
A way to be absolutely sure an article is from a peer-reviewed journal is to look in the database UlrichsWeb (see link below). When you find your journal in UlrichsWeb, make sure there is a referee jersey icon associated with the title.
Other useful databases may be found at the link below.