Search Tips

Understanding and Using Search Strategies

Searching any database can be more effective by understanding and using a few basic search strategies. Databases vary in the way you have to type in these strategies, so be sure to either check out the database help screens or ask a reference librarian.

1. Know the difference between subject vs. keyword searching.

2. Know what truncation is and how to use it to expand your search.

3. Know how to use Boolean Operators (connectors) — AND, OR, NOT — to increase, decrease or have more precise results.

4. Know how to nest terms for grouping search terms.

5. Know how to do field specific searching to make your search more precise.

Subject Vs. Keyword Searching

Subject Searching

When an article is indexed in a database, it is given subject headings that describe what information is covered. Subject headings are limited to a set of terms developed by the company that produces the database. To know what terms are "subject" headings, check to see if the database provide a Thesaurus or a List of Subjects.

PRO: Authors use different terms when writing about the same concept (cars, automobiles, motor vehicles, etc.). Rather than thinking of every possible synonym, find and use the subject heading for that concept to retrieve all relevant articles, regardless of the terms authors may use.

CON: There may not be a subject heading for your concept or it may be difficult to find one that exactly fits your concept.

Keyword or Phrase Searching

In a keyword search the database generates a list of articles that can have the term or phrase anywhere in the record for that article ... in the title, author, abstract or even in their subject headings.

PRO: Sometimes a concept may be a narrower aspect of a broad subject heading (text comprehension is a specific aspect of reading). Searching "text comprehension" as a keyword phrase saves you the time of wading through all the articles on "reading" that don't deal with text comprehension.

CON: Keyword searching usually retrieves a lot of articles but not all of them will use the keyword in the context you want. For example, a keyword search using "reading" might also get you articles on business management by an author named George Reading.

NOTE: When in doubt, try both kinds of searches, subject and keyword! It only takes a couple of seconds to try both to see which gathers the best results for your particular topic!


Truncation allows you to search for a root form of a word and pick up all variations of that term. Truncating broadens your search and ensure that you retrieve all items containing some form of that word.

teen* will retrieve articles with the terms

  • teen

  • teens

  • teenager

  • teenagers

A word of warning! Truncating a word too short can retrieve too many unwanted terms.

If you want all forms of the term culture, and you type cul* your articles will contain terms that you don't want:

  • cults

  • cultivate

  • culinary

  • culminate

  • culotte

  • culprit

The best way to truncate culture is cultur*

Boolean Operators

The search engine of online journal indexes are based on a system of combining terms using Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) to control the results of your search. To use two or more Boolean operators, you need to know how to use a technique called nesting.

  • Use AND to narrow a search since both terms must be present in the articles you retrieve.

children AND adolescents

The black area represents only those articles that have both children and adolescents present.

  • Use OR to expand a search. Your search will retrieve articles with EITHER of the terms. OR is most often used to combine synonyms or like terms.

memory OR recall

The black area represents articles that have either or both terms present.

  • Use NOT to exclude a term. Articles with the first term will be retrieved. Articles with the second term will not.

children NOT adolescents

The black area represents those articles that have the term children but not the term adolescents.


Nesting involves using parentheses so the search engine will perform the Boolean operations in the sequence you intend. This technique allows you to build a complex search using two or more operators (AND, OR, NOT, NEAR, WITH).

risk* AND (adolescents OR teenagers )

In this search the OR operation is nested and will be performed first. Then the AND operation will be performed. The search results are represented by the yellow i.e. articles on risk taking or risky behavior and adolescents as well as items on risk taking or risky behavior and teenagers.

Field Specific Searching

Another way to refine a search is to limit your search to a field. A field is an record element containing a specific type of information about a journal article. Some examples of fields are:

  • title

  • author

  • subject or descriptor

  • journal or source

  • publication date

  • abstract

  • full-text indicator

When to Use Field Specific Searching

1. When you want articles from a particular journal (JN psychology today.......SO journal of abnormal psychology)

2. When you want information from a specific year or range of years (PY 2000-2007)

3. When terms specified as subject headings or descriptors would be better than keywords (SU education)

4. When you want to see all the works of a particular author in the database (AU decaprio)

4. When you want to only retrieve items that appear in the title of the article ( TI text comprehension)

To find out how to do a field-specific search in a particular database, check the database's Help screens or ask a reference librarian.

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Getting the Article(s) You Want

There are several tools to use for getting articles: Full text Databases, LinkSource, UMass Lowell E-Journal Search and our Library Catalog.

Full-text Databases and LinkSource

1. Our indexes are purchased from different vendors. Each vendor makes certain journal articles available in full text. With LinkSource all indexes give you links to our full text articles regardless from what source we purchase the journal..

  • In our indexes the phrase " Linked Full Text, the adobe acrobat icon or a graphic  shows that the full-text is available directly from the index vendor.
  • If the full text is not directly available, you should  find a phrase "Check 360 Link for full text" and/or an icon 360 Link. Clicking on these links will either take you directly to the full-text article or to a page that offers you other options to retrieve the article.

2. Be sure the computer you are using has the necessary software (e.g. Adobe Acrobat Reader) to view and print out some types of full-text articles.

UMass Lowell E-Journal Search

The UMass Lowell E-Journal & Newspaper list contains the links to all our online journals and newspapers.

Use this list if Linksource is missing at the end of a citation in your search results or if you are trying to find articles from the references in a book or another journal article

  • Type in the journal name in the right hand search box.

  • The results will either show 0 matches (no access to this title) or

  • Display the title and the links to the journal from all sources

  • Be sure to choose the link that covers the year your article was published.

  • Notice that two links do not have access to the current year or  6 months. 

Paper or Microform Copies

Journals not available electronically may be available at UMass Lowell in paper or microfilm format.
Search the Library Catalog

  • Select  Journal Title Browse and type in the journal name.

  • The holding library (Lydon, O'Leary) will be named.

  • Paper copy holdings are listed first e.g. v. 10- 1980- means we own from volume 10, 1980 to the present

  • Make note of the call number of the journal e.g.BF321.Z9.

  • The bound journals are arranged as follows:
    O'Leary - Call Letters A-Z -- 4th floor interfiled with regular books 
    Lydon - Call Letters G,H, Q-T-- 2d floor

  • The microform holdings will be listed e.g. Microfilm: v. 1-9, 1970-1979 underneath the paper.
    O'Leary Microforms - 1st floor adjacent to the reference area
    Lydon Microforms - 2nd floor