Advanced Tips for Searching Article Databases

Find the right article database for you by academic discipline (easier than browsing the entire list of 275 databases, but you can do that too).

Every interface is different, but features to look for (not all features are available in all databases):

  • Is there an “advanced” search mode, and what does it allow you to do? Possibilities include limiting to scholarly journals, and limiting by language, publication type, years published, among others. Also, the advanced search mode often provides multiple search boxes, which allows you to break up your search into concepts and often retrieves more results.

Instead of searching: African American women poets, you often retrieve more if you put each concept in its own search box:

  • African American
  • Women
  • poets
  • What’s the wildcard for variant word endings? the most frequently used is our good friend the asterisk, as in: child* = child, childs, children, childish, childhood…
    • Sometimes internal truncation is available:   wom?n = woman, women, womyn
  • Can you use quotes to keep search terms together? (ex: “global warming”)
  • What specific fields can you search by: Author? Title? Abstracts? Publication title? Others?
    • Especially useful: search by official subject terms (usually listed in the long form of the item record)
    • Can you view a thesaurus of official subject terms?
  • How can you search alternative terms? (usually you can just type the connector or, as in:
    • Gay* or lesbian* or bisexual* or transgender*
    • Latino* or Hispanic* or chicano*
  • Can you search by proximity (oil within 3 words of disaster or contamination or cleanup)?
  • What are your options for sorting search results (relevance? Date? Oldest to newest, or vice versa?)
  • Is command-line searching available (for frequent power users who know the codes for field searching)?

Other features to look for:

  • Can you save items to a list or folder and email the results to yourself?
    • Bonus: some databases allow you to email results in your choice of citation formats
  • Can you save items to citation management software?
  • Can you save preferences (creation of a login usually required)? Can you save items to a persistent list that will be there the next time you login?
  • Can you create an alert so that your search will be run automatically and results will be sent to you by email? Or: an RSS feed?
  • Can you change the language of the search interface?

by Corliss Lee, Doe and Moffitt Libraries

Contact me at  clee [at]