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Graduate Student Guide to UMass Lowell Library Services

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; you can use the database help screens or ask

a reference librarian.



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 Searching

Keyword and 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 so that it is 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*.