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BIOL 1113 & 1123: Principles of Biology

4. How to Search

Why do I need search tips?

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 may accidentally eliminate articles that you could have used. Start with the one or two most important words in your topic on your first search. This will help you see 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-by-one 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 be an easy way to narrow or 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. Take a look at them to see 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.


4. How many search results should I have?

The number of search results you want depends on the research you’re doing. If you’re writing a short research paper, you probably want under 100 results. If you’re writing a dissertation, you may want more. How many results are you willing to look through?

As a general rule, you probably want fewer than 100 search results. If you’re having trouble narrowing your search to produce fewer than 100 results, your topic may need to be narrowed. 

If you’re not getting enough search results to meet your needs, you may need to broaden or alter your topic. 

Contact your librarian or professor if you need help narrowing your broadening your topic.

Test Yourself!