Article databases, online library catalogs, and many popular search engines share several general searching techniques. Once you master these common searching techniques, you will save yourself time and find more relevant results.
The search terms or keywords you use to search are what determine the results you get. Here's a good exercise to help you generate keywords:
1. Express your topic in a topic sentence: "How does the body repair nerve damage to the central nervous system?"
2. Generate keyword search terms by identifying the main ideas or concepts within the topic sentence: "How does the body repair nerve damage to the central nervous system?" --> how, repair, damage, nerve, central nervous system
3. Expand your search terms by brainstorming related terms or synonyms that describe your main ideas:
You can create complex search strategies by combining keywords using the linking words AND, OR and NOT. For example, if your search terms are neurotransmitter and serotonin:
In some databases you can restrict searching your terms to specific sections or fields in a database record, for example the article title or author name.
You can tailor your search by combining information from different parts of the record, like combining an author name with a subject term, or focus your search by restricting terms to an article title or abstract.
This is frequently done by using a pull-down menu to select the appropriate field for each search term.
Searching the root of a word without specifying a particular ending is one way to find variations on a word that relate to the same core concept without searching each word separately.
Some databases automatically search terms for singular, plural, and various other endings.
Some databases use a truncation symbol to indicate that any ending is acceptable after exactly matching the letters entered.
The actual symbol used will vary among databases. The asterisk (*) is most common, but some use a ? or other symbol, so check your database.
Searching for exact phrases instead of individual words can focus your search so that more results are directly relevant to your topic. Different databases and search engines accomplish this in different ways. Two common ones are:
Remember: Exact phrase searches can focus your results, but they can also miss some relevant results. Searching the phrase "glutamate receptor regulation" will not find regulation of glutamate receptors or regulating glutamate receptors, both of which are relevant.