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Graduate, Online, and Distance Research

Research information and resources for VCSU graduate, online, and distance students.

Using Advanced Search Features and Shortcuts

The advanced search features available in most databases can help you conduct a more efficient search. Use the tabs in the box below to learn more.

Advanced Search Features

Screenshot of EBSCO search boxes with Boolean (AND, OR, NOT) options.Most Advanced Search screens allow you to use multiple search boxes, and have drop-down menus between them giving you the option to choose between AND, OR, and NOT. These allow you to set different relationships between your terms, as described below.


Venn diagram illustrating search results using AND between search terms.Use AND to search for articles that contain multiple terms. For example, searching fracking AND environmental will return articles that include both of those terms. In the Venn diagram, you would only see articles that fall in the darker shaded area. The more AND terms you add, the smaller the overlapping area will get.

Venn diagram illustrating search results using OR between search terms.Use OR to find articles that contain either one or the other term. This is particularly useful for including synonyms in your search. So, searching fracking OR hydraulic fracturing would find articles that use either one or the other of those terms. In the Venn diagram, you would see every result included in either circle.

Venn diagram illustrating excluding a term from your search using NOT.Use NOT to exclude irrelevant results that may appear in the course of your search. For example, if you were searching for information on the physical motion of throwing an object, but found that your search was returning a number of results about throwing pottery on a wheel, you could include NOT pottery to exclude results referring to pottery. In the Venn diagram, the overlapping portion represents all results that include the words throwing and pottery - these would all be excluded from your search.

Diagram illustrating using an asterisk at the end of "educat" to search for educate, education, educating, educational, and educator.In most databases and search engines, placing an asterisk at the end of a portion of a word will run a search for that word with all possible endings in place of the asterisk. For example, searching educat* would search for educate, education, educating, educational, educators, etc., all at once, without having to perform multiple searches.

Diagram illustrating using the questionmark within the word "w o m blank n" to search for woman and womenSimilarly, including a question mark within a word will search for that word with different letters in place of the question mark. For example, searching wom?n would search for woman and women.

To search for exact phrases, enclose your terms in quotation marks. For example "climate change" will search for that exact phrase, rather than the words climate and change individually. This works in most search engines and the basic search boxes of most databases.

Illustration of the phrase climate change in quotation marks.

Setting limiters for full text or scholarly (peer reviewed) journals

  • If a database allows you to choose to search for only full text articles, you'll want to select this option more often than not. This will eliminate results for which you won't have access to the full text of the article, only the citation information and abstract.
  • Depending on your need, you may or may not want to select the option for only scholarly (or peer reviewed) journals. This option will retrieve only articles from academic journals. If you want to find articles from newspapers, magazines, or trade publications, you won't want to select this option.
  • Depending on the database, you may also see options for limiting by date, document type, language, length, etc.
  • The screenshot below gives you an example of the limiting options available in EBSCOhost databases.

Image of the limiting options available in EBSCO advanced search.

Image of the search fields available in EBSCO advanced search.Most databases will default to either a full text search or a search that includes some range of key text, including the title, abstract, and subject headings.

You may choose to get more specific by opting to search a specific area only. Searching only within subject headings, for example, will ensure that you get results that address your topic specifically, rather than articles that use one of your key words only once or twice.

To identify subject headings, first do a basic search, then find relevant articles and note the words used in the subject field. You can also click on the linked subjects to be taken to a list of all articles in the database under that subject heading.

The screenshot to the right shows the search fields available in EBSCOhost databases.

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