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Advanced Library Research Techniques: Advanced Searching Tips

This guide will help you improve your research skills and develop expertise in evaluating, comparing, and selecting reliable and credible sources of information.

Advanced Search Techniques

Advanced Search Techniques

An advanced search involves using a combination of Controlled Vocabulary and Subject Heading terms and free text/keyword searching.

Controlled Vocabulary/Subject Heading searching involves searching for studies categorized under a given subject. Each study within a (relevant) database is categorized, according to the topic(s) it covers, these categorizations are it's Subject Heading terms. An article about learning support in Universities, for example, would likely be given the Subject Headings 'Learning Support' or 'Student Support' and 'Universities' as these are the main areas which the article focuses on.

A Controlled Vocabulary/Subject Heading search is more precise than a free text/keyword search as it will retrieve results where the main focus of the study relates to the Subject terms that you entered. A free text/keyword search will retrieve results where your search terms are mentioned but the results may not focus on those terms.

Performing a Controlled Vocabulary/Subject Heading search

As with a free text/keyword search, you would need to search using subject terms for each concept of your search. For a topic on student experiences of learning support for study skills in Universities, for example, you would need to perform separate Subject Heading searches on student experienceslearning supportstudy skills and Universities.

Each Subject Heading search should be combined, using the Search History function, with a free text/keyword search relating to that concept. This search acts as a back up to the Subject Heading search as:

  • a study may have been categorized using a different subject term than the terms you used
  • a Subject Heading may have been mistakenly left out of the description of a study
  • a particular subject term may not exist in the database you are searching


Advanced Search Strategies

Helpful Searching Tools:
  • Truncation – to search with various versions of the same word, use the word root and a wild card symbol
    • Parent* will find: parent, parents, parenting, parental 
  • Synonyms – enclose words with similar meanings in parentheses or put them into separate search boxes
    • (teen* or juvenile* or adolesc* or youth)
  • Phrases – enclose a phrase in quotation marks to indicate that the word should be searched together (for most databases)
    • “teen pregnancy” or “market share”
Expanding & Limiting Results with Logical operators (Boolean operators): 
  • or – expands the number of results and is used with the synonyms
    • (teenagers or adolescents)
  • and – limits the number of results and each term must have "and" between the term. Each additional “and” (subject, language, publication year) decreases the number of results
    • (teenagers and pregnancy) 
  • not – excludes information
    • (art not sculpture)

Effective Research Strategy

Smart Web Searching

See the "Get More Out of Google article" to learn strategies for becoming an expert web searcher. Many of these strategies will translate to searching research databases for academic materials.

  • Searching within a particular domain (ex. ".gov" or ".edu") can help you find relevant materials for research
  • Limiting your dates to very current or a historical time range can help you target your search

Source of Infographic, Hack College, "Get more out of Google."