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Course & Subject Guides

Bioethics - Oakland Campus

This guide is intended primarily to assist students in the Interdisciplinary Master of Arts in Bioethics program within the University's Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, but may also be useful to anyone interested in finding information on bioethics.

Searching Techniques

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.

Selecting Keywords

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:  "What are the ethics of allowing individuals to sell their organs for transplantation?"

2. Generate keyword search terms by identifying the main ideas or concepts within the topic sentence: "What are the ethics of allowing individuals to sell their organs for transplantation?"  --> ethics, sell, organs, transplantation

3. Expand your search terms by brainstorming related terms or synonyms that describe your main ideas:

  • Ethics; ethical, bioethics
  • Sell; selling, sale, buy, purchase. commerce, trafficking, market
  • Organs; kidney, liver, body parts
  • Transplantation; transplant

Combining Search Terms

You can create complex search strategies by combining keywords using the linking words AND, OR and NOT. For example, if your search terms are cloning and human:

  • AND - Narrows and focuses the search results. The search cloning and human finds only results containing both the terms cloning and human.
  • OR - Broadens the search results. Searching cloning or human will find results containing the term cloning or the term human or both terms in the same result.
  • NOT - Excludes any result containing the term listed after the not.  The search cloning not human will find results containing the term cloning but not containing the term humanUse not cautiously since it excludes all mentions of the term in every context.

Field Searching

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.

  • gene*       will find     gene, genes, genetic, genetics, genetically

                             but not      genome or genomics

  • ethic*       will find     ethic, ethics, ethical, ethically, ethicist                                                  

The actual symbol used will vary among databases. The asterisk (*) is most common, but some use a ? or other symbol, so check your database.


Phrase Searching

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:

  • Quotation marks - Some databases treat words enclosed within quotation marks as phrases. Searching "genetically modified organisms" will find only results containing those three words next to each other in that order.
  • Default setting - In some databases, words typed next to each other are automatically searched as an exact phrase. Searching genetically modified organisms will only find results containing that exact phrase

Remember: Exact phrase searches can focus your results, but they can also miss some relevant results. Searching the phrase "genetically modified organisms" will not find genetically modified corn  or genetically modified food or GMO, all of which are relevant.