Skip to Main Content

A Guide to Journal Articles

Database - Searching

Databases will give you access to full text journal articles and/or citation or abstracts for journal articles. Database searching can be tricky but here are some tips that will help you find the most relevant results quickly and easily.


Choosing the right keywords is the most important aspect of your search.

Keywords are the main concepts or ideas behind your question. A database will not recognize a complete sentence so it is important to tailor your search by identifying the main concepts, usually 2-3, of your topic. A concept can be a keyword or key phrase.

  • When searching a key phrase make sure to put it in "quotation marks" so the phrase is searched as a concept and not as individual words.

In addition to identifying the main concepts of your topic, brainstorm synonyms or alternate ways of addressing your main ideas. Databases will only retrieve results that include the exact words you search so you may miss out on a lot of relevant results by not expanding your search with synonyms.

Combining Keywords

Once you have your list of main concepts and related synonyms or ideas you can tailor your search using something called Boolean Operators. There are 3 boolean operators: AND, OR and NOT that can be used to structure your search quickly and easily.

Many databases will open directly to an Advanced Search screen showing multiple search bars, databases that open to a Basic Search will give you the option of changing over to an Advanced Search.

Assign one main concept plus synonyms to each search bar. Search separate concepts using AND, add synonyms with OR and remove concepts from your search with NOT.

To review:

AND is used to link separate concepts in one search.

OR is used to search separate concepts (usually synonyms) at once.

NOT is used to exclude select concepts from your search.


Here is an example of how this would look like in practice:

Let's say you were interested in look at the impact addiction has on recidivism rates in prison. Your main concepts would be addiction, recidivism and prison, synonyms could include reoffense or jail. Further if you were interested in drug addiction specifically you could exclude results dealing with alcoholism. So your search string would look something like this:

search example highlighting use of boolean operators to modify your search

  • Although you can bring in as many concepts as you would like using AND keep in mind that making the search too narrow will limit your number of results.
  • There is no limit to the amount of synonyms that you can bring into your search using OR so use this as a way to broaden your results.
  • Only use NOT when there is a specific aspect of your concept that you want to avoid or if your concept has multiple meanings/uses that you want to control.
Ask Chat is Offline - Send an Email