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Searching in Electronic Databases

Tips on searching the Oregon Tech databases

Choose the right type of database. What kind of information source do you need? For books, use a catalog; for articles, use a periodical index database; for web sites, use a Web search engine.

Choose a database with the right subject focus. What discipline(s) would include your topic? Especially if you're looking for periodical articles, think about whether you would find more in an index specialized for engineering, medicine, biology, literature, current affairs, or some other area. (A multidisciplinary index is often a good place to start.)

Simplify your topic into its key concepts. What are the essential ideas that need to be part of the information you retrieve? Try writing down your topic as a statement or question, and then underlining the terms representing the important concepts. Think of alternative words you could use to represent the same idea.

What other ways are there to say the same thing? Consider synonyms, broader and narrower terms, antonyms, and colloquial versus professional or technical terminology.

Map out the logic you will need to combine your key concepts. Use OR to combine terms that represent the same idea; use AND to combine the different terms or sets of terms representing the ideas. Save NOT for times when you need to exclude a topic that comes up frequently with your terms.

Get help when you use an unfamiliar database. Is it clear what the database conventions are for things such as truncation, searching for terms in specific data fields, limiting by language, etc.? Different database search products work differently. Do you know how to limit your search by date of publication, species, language?

Use the online Help, or ask a librarian for assistance. Learn from what you find with one search and use it to try again with a different search. Did you retrieve records for items that were on the right aspect of the right subject? Were they too popular or too technical? Did you find enough? Figure out if you should try using some different keywords, reworking your search logic, or choosing another database.

See also: Tips for Using Index Databases