You may think that you don’t need to learn how to search a library database because you’ve had good luck searching Google (or another web search engine) to locate information. But searching a library resource is not the same as searching for information using Google. A database provides structured access points (e.g., keyword, author, publisher) to help users locate specific resources, whereas a search engine searches unstructured text. To find what you are looking for in a database your search should be concise and concrete - i.e. short and sweet! Check out our tips below for creating an effective search strategy.
Keywords are words that hold the essence, or the key, of what you are trying to find. Keywords should be descriptive and short and are often (but not always) nouns. If you're feeling stuck, try using a key concept/idea, a key group, a location, or a time period as your keywords.
If you are searching for sources for an assignment, you can identify the first keywords from the topic itself. Usually three keywords will give your search a good level of specificity. The more keywords you add, the narrower your search becomes.
Topic example: Why do some Canadians choose to purchase electric cars?
Keywords: Canadians (key group), purchase (concept), electric cars (concept)
Navigate to the Advanced Search page and enter your keywords, each in its own box. Example:
Synonyms are words that have the same, or nearly the same, meaning as the main keywords. Synonyms and keywords are interchangeable, which means that the meaning of your search will remain the same but your scope will be more broad. Using synonyms is a good way to capture extra results that are still related to your original topic.
Here are a few synonyms for the topic: Why do some Canadians choose to purchase electric cars?
reasons = decisions, motives
Canadians = Canadian people, Canadian drivers
purchase = buy, acquire
electric cars = hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles, hybrid cars
In the database, your search with both keywords and synonyms will look something like this:
Canad* will search for Canada, Canadian, Canadians all at the same time.
Educat* will search for education, educate, educator, educational, etc.
Wom*n will search: woman, women