This is the "Database Search Tips" page of the "EDCI 489 - Data Driven Decisioning in Schools & Classrooms" guide.
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EDCI 489 - Data Driven Decisioning in Schools & Classrooms  

Educational research and statistics
Last Updated: Jul 20, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts

Database Search Tips Print Page

Common Database Search Features


  • Search by single word  or word phrase (in quotes)


  • Use AND to connect different concepts together (to narrow down results when one search term is too broad)
    Example:   "mobile technology" AND classroom
  • Use OR to connect synonyms together (to increase number of items you have to choose from in search results list)
    Example:    "mobile technology" OR "handheld devices" OR "mobile devices" OR tablet OR smartphone
  • Use NOT to eliminate terms you don't want in search results
    Example:    "mobile technology" NOT iPads


  • Use the asterisk "*" to do stem searching.  Instead of typing all variations of a word into your search boxes, type it once using the asterisk.
    Example:      comput* will pick up terms such as compute, computes, computer, computers, computing, computation, computational


Search for two or more words that occur within a specified number of words of each other. Proximity operators are composed of a letter (N or W) and a number (to specify the number of words).

  • Near Operator (N) - N5 finds the words if they are within 5 words of one another regardless of the order in which they appear.
    Example:      tax N5 reform finds results that would match tax reform as well as reform of income tax.

  • Within Operator (W) - W8 finds the words if they are within 8 words of one another and in the order in which you entered them.
    Example:      tax W8 reform finds results that would match tax reform but would not match reform of income tax.

  • Multiple Terms can be used on either side of the operator.
    • (baseball or football or basketball) N5 (teams or players)
    • oil W3 (disaster OR clean-up OR contamination)


  • Some databases, such as ERIC, have a thesaurus to help you find synonyms (alternative or related words) to include in your searches.


  • After reviewieng your search results, choose citations from a set of search results that you want to keep by clicking on the "folder" icon, as in databases on the EBSCO platform.

PRINT / DOWNLOAD / E-MAIL / EXPORT (to Citation Management Tools)

  • These are your "output" options after selecting citations from your search results.


  • After selecting an output option, most databases allow you to create a bibliography or reference list in one of the major citation styles before printing, downloading, or e-mailing (APA, MLA, Chicago, Turabian, Harvard, etc.). 
  • Always check for accuracy as there are sometimes typos and other mistakes when using this feature.


  • This is possible using databases that share the same platform (search engine) such as EBSCO. 

  • Drawback: special search features or limiters (filters) that are unique to specific databases will not be applied to all references in your search results. Example: ERIC is the only database that has the Educational Level filter. When searching across ERIC and other EBSCO databases, the Educational Level filter will only be applied to citations pulled from ERIC, because it is not a field common to all of the databases selected.


Basic Search

Experiment with keywords to see what has been published about your topic in the scholarly literature,sometimes called a "scoping" search.

  • Select a database most likely to cover the journals related to your topic.
  • Avoid using filters or limiters until you see which keywords locate the publications you need.
  • Once you find keywords that seem to work well, then apply filters provided by the database search interface such as: publication date range, publication type (journal articles, books, book chapters, or dissertations), or methodology, etc.


Topic:  I want to see what has been published about the use of mobile technology in the classroom.

Search Terms:  "mobile technology"  AND  classroom

  • Skim the titles and abstracts to see if your results matched your topic.
  • Check the number of citations found.
  • Applying filters will reduce the number even further.
  • After using filters, 200-500 items in your search results is generally a good number (depending on how much has ben written about your topic).

Not enough citations to choose from within your search results?

  • Check for typos in your search terms
  • Try searching additional databases or those more likely to cover your topic.
  • Try an advanced or "complex" search strategy to  increase the number of search results.


Advanced / Complex Search

Break your topic into separate searches - one for each concept along with synonyms. Then use the Search History feature to combine search result sets; and then apply filters.

How to identify synonyms for each concept:

  • Use the online thesaurus (if the database has one such as PsycINFO, ERIC, Linguistics & Language Behavior Abstracts).
    •    The thesaurus uses a controlled vocabulary specific to the topics and subjects covered by the database.
    •    Thesaurus terms are added to the record for each publication described in the database to indicate the focus (similar to tags).
    •    The thesaurus can sometimes be helpful in identifying related terms, narrower terms, and broader terms.
  • Check some of the items in your original search results on this topic
    •    Read the titles and abstracts to see how authors describe the topic
    •    Check the Subject Heading field (sometimes called Descriptor field) for thesaurus terms (tags)
    •    Check the Keywords field if the database provides author-supplied keywords
  • Come up with your own synonyms
  • Use a combination of these terms to revise your search.


Topic: I want to see what has been published about the use of mobile technology in the classroom.

Search #1
"mobile technology" OR  "mobile devices"  OR  "handheld devices"  OR  tablets  OR  iPads

Search #2
classroom  OR  schools

Search #3

  • Click the "Search History" link (EBSCO platform) to bring up all searches executed during your current search session (for the ProQuest platform, click on the folder icon in the green bar along the top of the page and select Recent Searches)
  • Click the green "Clear" button to erase the keywords displayed in the search boxes (remaining from last search executed)
  • Check the boxes next to the search result sets you wish to combine (ex: S1 and S2)
  • Click the gray "Search with AND" button to execute the combined search.
  • Then apply filters as needed.

Found too many results on your topic?

  • Try using narrower (more specific) terms (e.g. "tablets" rather than "mobile technology"); or try adding concepts or other criteria to your search such as: interventions, specific teaching methods, settings (public or private schools; higher education), or population (males, females, ethnicity, age groups), etc.
  • Filter/Limit your search results to literature reviews to see how authors have synthesized or summarized the topic based on previously published works. (in PsycINFO, use the Methodology field limiter; in other databases add "literature review" to the search specifying the abstract and  title fields).

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