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BIOL 5503: Research Methods

How to Search

Searching in databases is a little different from searching in Google. Databases have special filters and search tools to help you refine your search and find what you need more quickly. These basic tips will help you find what you need more quickly.


1. Start with 1-2 search words. Add more later.

If you add too many words or too much detail in your first search, you might eliminate articles that you could have used. For your first search, start with the one or two most important words in your topic to check how many results you have to work with.

After you see how many results you have in each database, you can start adding additional search words or filters one at a time to see how that changes the number of search results.


2. What are the best words to use?

One of the first things you should do when searching is to list out all of the possible search words you can think of. As you search, watch for additional words you can add to your list. You should try different combinations of search words to see which ones give you the results you like the most.

Researchers may use different words than you do to describe the same thing. Once you discover their terminology, try using their terms in your next search. Did it provide different results?


3. Using filters

Filters can help you focus your searching. It’s similar to when you’re shopping online and want something that’s a specific color, size, or price range. Filters help you narrow your search results to what you’re looking for.

Each database has a different set of filters. Review your filter options in each database to identify which ones might be helpful. Apply new filters one at a time. If you apply too many at once, you may accidentally eliminate search results that you could have used.

Tip: Don't use filters you don't need. For example, if your research involves menopause, you probably don't need to use the filter for "Female." Likewise, if all or most of your search results are in English, you probably don't need to use the language filter for "English."


4. How many search results should I have?

The number of search results you want depends on the research you’re doing. Unless you're writing a review article, you probably want fewer than 100 results in each individual search for your topic.

If you feel overwhelmed by the number of search results you're getting, you may need to build a more specific search or narrow your topic. Try breaking your main topic into several subtopics and then searching each subtopic separately. For example, if you were researching "skin cancer therapies," you could search separately for each type of therapy instead of searching for "skin cancer therapies" and getting results for all therapies at once.


5. Contact your librarian if you need help!

If you're feeling stuck, contact your librarian to set up a research appointment.

Test Yourself!