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English - Technical Writing: 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.

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. 

cascading style sheets
computer programming AND algorithms
​electronic data processing 
computer game programming
INTERNET programming
INTRANET programming
javascript (computer program language)
PHP (computer program language)
SQL (Computer program language)
web site development
web sites design
Computer software
Robot programming
Coding theory
Search engine programming
C++ (Computer program language)
programming languages (Electronic computers)
data compression
Digital electronics
​Binary codes
sequential codes
robotics AND dynamics

Fishery management
Cooperative management of natural resources
Aquatic resources
artificial reefs
Fishery economics
Fisheries & the environment
Coral fisheries
Bonefish fisheries
Fishery handling
Fishery processing

Combine or group terms or concepts using the Boolean operator "AND" to refine your search string:  cognitive robotics AND science or try the search string:  document markup languages AND SGML . 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 Computer Source database features a "Subjects" tab, while Business Source Elite offers a "Thesaurus" link.  Enter terms in the Browsing box to see how the database recognizes them.

Boolean Operators - Tutorial

Searching Multiple Databases

YouTube video created by NSU Libraries on how to search multiple EBSCOhost databases simultaneously.