Skip to Main Content

Library Resources for S309: Searching Library Databases Effectively

Searching Databases Effectively

Since library database searching works differently than Google searching, it is important to take a moment to brainstorm the elements you need to conduct an effective search. In short, you must boil down your topic into keywords and concepts and talk to the database in language it can understand. Here’s how it works!

1. Start with your topic or research question. What are you trying to learn about or investigate? Write that down first. 

2. Refining your topic and brainstorming keywords:

Your research question or topic might be too big or too small, and you might not know that at this point. That’s okay! That is why it is vital right now to think about all the possible dimensions and aspects and angles there might be to your topic. What are the keywords and concepts associated with your topic? Think about the main ideas and basic concepts and jot down a list of relevant keywords. Sometimes it helps to imagine you’re explaining your question to an audience unfamiliar with the subject. What words would you use to describe your question or topic?

Construct a search phrase that you can use to conduct a search in a library search tool. Use the word and to combine keywords. Try to come up with at least two search phrases. The more phrases you have ready to go, the more successful you’ll be when you’re searching.

example: food insecurity and Louisville

3. Conducting a search

  • Explore the search limiters in each database in order to see how you can restrict your search by publication date, type of source, and so on.
  • Try rephrasing your search using the list of keywords you generated on the previous page. For example, what happens to your search results when you add another keyword, or use quotation marks around an exact phrase
  • Keep track of what databases you use and what search phrases you use. This will help you retrace your steps later if needed.
  • Avoid the “cite” feature in databases, or use it with extreme caution. They often contain errors, so double-check these in your style manual to ensure that your citations are correct.