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Search the literature: Improve your search

Expand search results

One method to expand the search is to use a symbol to represent one or more characters. This allows you to capture all forms of a word in one search, including:
  • English and American spellings
  • singular and plural
  • variant endings
Truncation symbols
  • Often the (*) asterisk.
  • Normally added to the end of a word.
  • Used to capture singular, plural or variations of a term.
  • For example econom* finds economy, economics, economical, etc.
Wildcard symbols
  • Will vary between databases e.g. ?, #, *, $
  • Used in the middle of words.
  • Replaces one or more characters.
  • For example, wom?n finds woman, women, womyn etc.

Focus search results

Link terms to increase relevance

While an article may contain your keywords, it may not be in a way you intend. Linking terms can improve the relevance of the results.

Proximity searching
  • Looks for one term within a specified distance of another.
  • Increases the likelihood the terms are used in a similar context.
  • Find terms in the same phrase, sentence or paragraph.
  • e.g. oil W3 spill
Phrase searching
  • Place two or more words in "inverted commas" or "quote marks".
  • Looks for a specific phrase, as entered.
  • Without "" the terms will be searched separately.
  • e.g. "climate change"
Select database-appropriate terms

Some databases use a controlled vocabulary, or consistent and predefined terminologies for describing and organising information.

  • A collection of preferred indexing terms of a particular database.
  • Adds specificity to your search as you will.
  • Highlights relationships between terms in hierarchical format.
Subject headings
  • Most databases attach subject headings to the articles.
  • Follow the links to additional articles on the same subject.
  • Add the subject to a search to locate relevant results.

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Always read the database help or search tips for more information.


View examples from some of the common databases.

Web resources

Database tutorials