1. Use AND search for multiple keywords and phrases. Use quotation marks to search for an exact phrase
Databases don't work like Google and other search engines. If you type a sentence or phrase into a database, it will assume you want those words to appear all together and in that order.
2. Use truncation (an asterisk) and wildcards (usually a question mark)
Econom* brings up economics, economy, economies. This works in most of the databases.
Globali?ation brings up items with the words globalization or globalisation.
If you don't use truncation and wildcards, some databases will look for an exact match to the words you type, and you may miss some relevant materials.
Warning: If you shorten the root word too much, you will bring up irrelevant items (soc* will bring up society and social and socioeconomic, but also Socrates and soccer).
3. Find out if the database you're using has a "subject search" option.
Keyword searching is the default. This searches for words anywhere in the title and the body of the article. Subject searching limits searches to assigned list of subjects.
This may bring up fewer results, but you'll be searching with more precision.
Start with a keyword search. Most databases will then let you select from a list of suggested subjects
4. Use your imagination.
Think of all the possible ways to express your topic. Aside from different spellings or variations on proper names, are there different words or phrases that are used interchangeably (a common example is global warming and climate change)
To get the best results, use the word OR inside parentheses.
5. Approach your research like a detective, looking for clues in all that you discover.
Check bibliographies and footnotes to follow citation trails
6. Did I say top 5? I meant 6.
Number 6: Ask the librarian if you have questions!
*Adapted from Northeastern University Library's Top 10 Search Tips