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How to Search a Database

Search techniques to use in any database and how to get more and fewer articles.

What Are Databases?

Databases have collections of articles and other sources. The content of the databases is not freely available to the general public. Libraries pay for them so researchers can have access to good quality information. They include mostly articles, but also include images, maps, illustrations, video and audio files. Articles can be printed, downloaded or emailed. All of COM Library's databases are accessible through the A-Z Databases page. Occasionally there are good open access (free to the public) databases. COM Library collects some of the best under A-Z Databases Open Access

Use Boolean Operators

Boolean operators describe a conceptual relationship between search terms and include: "AND," "OR," and "NOT." These may be used in the search box of most online databases as well as search engines such as Google. Pro tip: Use Boolean operators in all caps so the databases doesn't search for the words and, or not. 

Boolean Diagram
Boolean Diagram

Using "AND" indicates that both terms must be present to be retrieved. In an "AND" search, only the point where the two circles overlap--the green portion---would be retrieved. "AND" should be chosen to narrow the search statement.

Using "OR" indicates that either term may be present to be retrieved. An "OR" search would retrieve a set that looks like the entire image-- the yellow circle, the blue circle and the green portion in between would all be retrieved. "OR" should be chosen when using several terms to describe the same or a similar concept, which will broaden the search.

Using "NOT" indicates that one term is present and the other must not be  present to be retrieved. The "NOT" search would look like the yellow circle with the overlapping green portion of that circle gone. Use "NOT" cautiously--frequently more is eliminated than is intended. "NOT" should be  chosen to eliminate instances of a term from a search statement.

Search Techniques

1.Use Quotes

Use quotes around any set of words sought as a phrase (these words in this order). This is especially useful when searching for proper names so you don’t get results where the two words are on the page but unrelated. Compare Tom Hanks to "Tom Hanks".

2. Use Advanced Search

Advanced Search sounds more difficult, but really it just means more options. Just about all of our databases have advanced search options available that can really save you time.