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Database Searching 101

Multiple Keywords or Phrases: Place in separate boxes or separate by Boolean operators. Don’t string them together all on one line as you would in Google.

Phrase Search: Use quotation marks to indicate a phrase search (For example: "exclusionary rule"; "body camera" )

Truncation: Add an asterisk * to the end of a term to retrieve results with multiple endings
For example: "decriminali*" will include results for "decriminalization" and "decriminilize"

Boolean Operators can help you expand or narrow your search

  • AND: (“jury selection" AND "gender") Narrows your search so that only records containing both search terms come back to you.
  • OR: ("Miranda warning" OR "Miranda rights") Broadens your search so that all records containing the word artist as well as all records containing the word designer come back to you.
  • NOT: ("vikings NOT football") Narrows your search so that only records that contain the first term and not the second term come back to you.

You can combine as many of these techniques as you want in the same search!

Different authors and sources may use different language to talk about the same thing. As you are doing your searching, make a note of what keywords worked well and where. For example, more scholarly terms might work best when searching scholarly literature and common, non-technical terms might work best when doing general internet searching.

To identify keywords for your topic, look to a reference source like an encyclopedia or even Wikipedia and make lists of terms used in the articles. Also be sure you're paying attention to the keywords listed in the databases and articles you're using.

Don't let the often dense, academic language of scholarly journal articles intimidate you! Follow these tips to get the information you need quickly and easily.

  • Read the abstract in full.
  • Then, skim strategically. Don't feel like you have to read every article you come across beginning to end, but similarly, don't simply dismiss an article based on the title. 
  • When reading and skimming, keep these questions in mind:
    • What is the author saying? What is their central argument?
    • How are they defending their central argument? What evidence are they providing?
    • How does their argument compare to what other scholars are saying? Is this a majority or minority view? What competing ideas are there to consider?
    • What scholarly literature was authored before this paper? (Hint: look at the Literature Review section) What scholarly literature was written after this paper was published? 
  • Write a brief summary, in your own words, to help you later. Note if there are certain facts or quotations you plan to use in your paper.
  • Look at the Literature Review section. This is a common feature of many articles that summarizes other major works on the topic and can provide very helpful resources for further exploration.