Searching academic databases is a bit different to searching Google. If you type a full sentence or question into Google you will get a whole load of results. This is because Google tries to guess what you are looking for. Academic databases, on the other hand, are designed to be specific and need you to tell them exactly what to look for. Unlike Google, they return only high quality results from trusted sources, that match your search terms. Use these search tips in the library catalog and academic databases to save time and find more relevant sources to use in your assignments and research. And remember, if you need help, ask a Librarian.
Use keywords, not sentences when searching library databases.
Keywords describe the main concepts or ideas in your research question.
Aim to use between 2 and 4 keywords.
Watch the short video below by McMaster University Library to learn how to use keywords.
Running time: 2:42
Most academic databases offer Advanced Search options which can be very useful when planning your search strategies and often allow you to:
Combine keywords with AND
Use double quotes to find exact phrases
Exclude unwanted words with NOT
Use Proximity Searching (N# and W#) to find words near each another
N# - looks for the keywords in any order.
W# - looks for the keywords in the order you entered them.
You will find a list of all our databases on our A-Z of Online Resources page. Not all databases are the same! The description below the title link for each database will tell you what subject and type of information can be found in that database.
Use ORs and brackets to find words with similar meanings
Use Truncation to find words with different endings
Use Wildcards to catch words with different spellings
Most academic databases allow you to limit your results to just the type of content you need. Some common limiters are: full text, peer-reviewed, publication date, content or source type language and geography. Limiters are usually displayed on the search results page in the form of check boxes or drop down menus.
You are researching the link between video games and violent behaviour in teenagers.
You have identified the following keywords: video games,gaming, online gaming, violent, violence, aggression, bullying, anger, teenagers, adolescents, youth.
A potential database search is: ("video games OR gaming) AND (aggression or violen*) AND (teenager* OR youth)