Don’t type your essay question into a database; instead break it into important concepts. For example, if your question is
The important concepts are advertising, cigarettes and teenagers
Next think of alternative words (synonyms) for your important concepts. This will make your search as broad as possible.
Using the example above,
advertising could also be marketing or promotion
cigarettes could also be tobacco or smoking
teenagers could also be youths or adolescents
Combine your search terms using OR and AND. This will save you time and give you more accurate results.
OR will broaden your search, if you search for
advertising OR marketing OR promotion,
you will get results with any of these words in them.
For example you would find: Spicing up dull cricket advertising
This diagram shows how using OR between terms will broaden your search; you will get results on any of the three topics.
AND will focus your search, if you search for
advertising AND teenagers AND cigarettes
You will only get results containing all these words
For example you would find: Teenage exposure to cigarette advertising in popular consumer magazines.
This diagram shows how using AND between terms will narrow a search. You will only get results where all three concepts are included, i.e. the intersection/overlap of the 3 circles in the diagram.
Using truncation is a quick and easy way of saving time. It allows you to search for words which begin with the same letters. Databases use different symbols for truncation, the most common is *
Advert* searches for advertising, adverts, advert, advertisements and advertisement
Cigar* will search for cigar, cigars, cigarette and cigarettes
Most databases offer advanced search features. These can help ensure that your search is highly relevant. Check the individual databases for details; you may be able to limit where your search terms appears, for example in the title, or set a date range or a country of origin.
Using the example above the search would look like this:
advert* or market* or promot*
cigar* or smok* or tobacco
teenage* or youth* or adolescen*
Look at the results from your search, are they what you expected? Are they useful? Are they relevant? Could they be improved?
Once you've found a reference to a journal article in a library database, how do you go about finding the full-text of the article? The video below shows the steps involved.