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How to Find Articles

Get the overview of how to find articles including databases basics, how to get more or fewer articles, and databases.

When You Want Less


If you choose a topic that is very general or broad your paper would have to be very long to cover all aspects of the topic. You would also have to sort through thousands of articles or Web sites. It’s generally better to focus on a specific aspect of the topic. There are several ways that you can narrow your search in online databases. Ideally, narrowing your search will get you down to fewer articles, while retaining enough for you to really use, between 20-80 articles.

Start Broad And Narrow Down

It's OK to start broad and narrow down as you go. Sometimes you don't know the topic well enough to know how to narrow down at first.

If you don’t have a specific question in mind, you can do a general search on the death penalty and see what articles have been written about it. Each author of those articles had to find a way to narrow down the topic--see which ones interest you the most.

What terms in the articles did the authors use that you could use in a search to retrieve more like it?  Combine those terms in a keyword search with your broad topic, death penalty and you'll get fewer, more relevant results.

Use Limits

ClockLimits are actually the easiest technique to use to narrow down your results. Virtually all databases have limits that you can apply to your search, though they vary from database to database. Rather than narrowing by concept, as with and, you are reducing the results by limiting to specific attributes of a publication, such as full text, date or publication type.

Use Boolean AND

Narrow with Boolean: AND
Boolean operators describe a conceptual relationship between search terms and include: "and," "or," and "not." The best way to narrow your search is to use the term and. Most databases allow and to be used in your search statement. Example: If you wanted to know how affirmative action has affected African Americans, you would type in: affirmative action and African Americans. You are narrowing down a search on affirmative action to only those articles on affirmative action that involve African Americans.


AndUsing "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.

Use Boolean NOT

The term not tends to narrow a search the most. In fact it can sometimes eliminate all articles. It really should only be used when you have performed a search and keep on getting results that you don't want.

Example: If you wanted to find all articles on Bill Clinton that involved scandal but found that there were so many that involved Monica Lewinsky that you couldn't find out what the other scandals were, you would enter: Bill Clinton and scandal not Monica.


NotUsing "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.

Ask A Question

One way to narrow down is really designed to help you focus your thoughts. Ask a question about your topic.

For instance, say your topic is on the death penalty. What question about the death penalty do you want to answer? Perhaps something like: “Should juveniles get the death penalty?,” or maybe “Is the death penalty constitutional?”

Key words to enter in a search would be juveniles and death penalty or death penalty and constitution.