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Research Process: An Overview: Database Searching

This guide outlines the steps in the research process from developing a topic to crediting sources.

TIP: Keywords

Keywords are the main terms that describe your research question or topic.  Keep track of these words so you can use them when searching for books and articles.

    Identify the main concepts in your research question. Typically there should only be two or three main concepts.
  • Look for keywords that best describe these concepts.
  • You can look for keywords when reading background information or encyclopedia articles on your topic
  • Use a thesaurus, your textbook and subject headings in databases to find different keywords.

Keyword Tools

Need help figuring out keywords to use in your search? The following tools should be useful:

Search Tips

When searching for articles using library databases, the following tips should increase the relevance of your results.

Phrase Searching
Quotation marks around two or more keywords - phrase searching - ensures that the results will include the exact phrase. The example search to the left will return results that have either of the terms "sig sigma" or "quality control" or results that contain both terms.


Databases use the booleans AND, OR, and NOT to expand or limit results. In the first search field in the example to the left, the OR boolean is used to expand the search results to include either or both phrases. If we were to select AND from the dropdown, that search would limit the results to those that include lean, whereas OR would expand the results again, and NOT would exclude lean from the results altogether.

Truncation or wildcard searching involves the use of an asterisk (*) to include variations of a word in the results. The results from the example search would include all words beginning with "sustainab" such as sustainable, sustainability, and sustainably.

Database tips

Interlibrary Loan requests