Communications and Media: Effective searching

Library databases

Searching databases - effective strategies


  1. Think about your topic and precisely what you are looking for information on. What aspect of the topic are you interested in?

Think about the perspective you want eg Political, social, legal,philosophical etc


   example Topic:  Should hate speech be illegal ? Why?

    Develop a search strategy


      1.     Divide  topic into clearly defined concepts. Avoid relational concepts such as effect upon, relationship with, impact upon, interaction with etc.


        hate speech
           legility  Jurisdiction eg Victoria/Australia


             2.   Think of as many possible alternative ways of expressing each concept.

          Some databases have their own Thesaurus - use this to find the appropriate terms to use in that particular database. Also use subject dictionaries and encyclopedia.


          Think about:    synonyms (e.g.laws,legislation regulation, control, censorship)

                                              plural/singular forms (e.g. regulation, regulations)

                                              variations of a root word (e.g. regulate, regulation, regulated)

          This is one possible search strategy. When you have started to look at  more specific aspects of this broader topic you will need to go through this process with the more specific topics eg racial villification


          Concept 1

          hate speech  OR

          hate crime  OR



          Concept 2
          law*  OR

          legislation  OR

          regulation   OR



          Concept 3



                 3. Think about the spelling and terminology that may vary according to the origin of the database ie. native american is used in Databases that  originate                in the US     


                   4. Use truncation or Wild Cards if appropriate. Check the Database ‘Help’ to find the symbol in that database


              e.g. *  In many databases  regulat*will retrieve regulate, regulation, regulating, regulates

                      5.   Combining Concepts

                Most databases use Boolean operators AND, OR, NOT.


                Combine alternative ways of expressing the same concept with ‘OR’

                e.g. regulate OR censor OR ban OR control


                Combine the result of these searches with ‘AND’

                Exclude any unwanted terms with ‘NOT’ if relevant  eg violent video games not pornography


                          6.  Limiting options 

                  Many Database offer options to limit your search to


                  -        a language e.g. you may want to limit to English language articles

                  -        a date - you may only want articles written in the last couple of years

                  -        type of document - you may only be looking for book reviews or thesis


                         7.  Improving the results of the search


                    Not enough articles?

                    To broaden your search (i.e. increase the amount you find) you can:

                    ·         reduce the number of concepts you are using

                    ·         look for alternative terms

                    ·         use more general search terms

                    ·         use subject headings as search terms

                    ·         make sure you have used any Boolean operators correctly

                    ·         use truncation to get variations on your term, or use alternate spellings


                    If all these strategies are unsuccessful - try a different Database


                    Too many articles?

                    To narrow your search (i.e. reduce the amount you find) you can:

                    ·         look for more specific alternative terms

                    ·         use ‘NOT’ to eliminate an aspect of the topic you are not interested in

                    ·         use subject headings as search terms

                    ·         make sure you have used any Boolean operators correctly

                    ·         remove any truncation

                    ·         use available limit options eg  date, language