Search Techniques

Identify keywords
Combine searches
Use truncation
Use the advanced features of the database
Review your results
If at first you don't succeed...
Following up references to find the full-text

Identify keywords

 Don’t type your essay question into a database; instead break it into important concepts. For example, if your question is

"investigate the impact of advertising cigarettes on teenagers"

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 searches

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.

Search Techniques


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.            

Search Techniques 2

Use Truncation

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

Use the advanced features of the database

 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*

Review your results

Look at the results from your search, are they what you expected? Are they useful? Are they relevant? Could they be improved?

If at first you don’t succeed…

    1. Look at your original search terms and be prepared to change them
    2. Identify useful articles from your results and try another search using the keywords which appear in these articles
    3. If your database is American be prepared to use American vocabulary and spelling, for example, instead of paediatric use pediatric
    4. Use the database’s thesaurus or online help
    5. At Stirling make an appointment with a Librarian for further assistance with searching. Or ask at the Information Centre on Level 2 of the Stirling Campus Library. Or email for searching advice.
    6. At Highland make an appointment with a Librarian for further assistance with searching. Or ask at the Issue Desk of the Highland Campus Library.
    7. Be prepared to try a different database - a full list of all Stirling University’s databases can be found here.


Following Up references to find the full-text

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.




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