Constructing a Search Statement (Handout)
In this tutorial, you’ll learn:
how to combine keywords in a search statement, and
about other database options you can use to focus your search.
By the time you start putting together your search statement, you should know
your topic and have some keywords to use when searching the databases. Let’s
say that we’re going to write a paper on binge drinking in college students, and
you’ve identified some keywords that include synonyms for the main concepts of
Combining Keywords in Your Search Statement:
You may be familiar with how to construct a search statement for the single
search box approach that online search engines like Google use – you just enter
the main concepts in the box.
However, many library databases do not have a single search box. How do enter
your keywords when you’re faced with a screen like this? When there are
multiple search boxes on a database search screen, like these two examples,
you put each of your keywords in a separate box. The default value in many
databases is AND. In our example, this makes our search statement read as:
“Binge drinking” AND “college students”
When keywords are connected using AND, the database returns only those
articles that contain both keywords. For example, the database might have 942
articles on binge drinking as well as over 30,000 articles on college students;
however, it returns only the 267 articles that have both binge drinking AND
college students in them.
Using AND to connect your keywords reduces the total number of articles that
the search returns.
What do you do when your search doesn’t return enough articles? For example,
a search for feminism AND cinema returns only 6 articles and you’d like to find
This is a situation where having additional keywords for your topic comes in
handy. In this example, you can add synonyms for your existing terms to your
search statement. You add the synonyms in the same search box as the original
term, connecting them using OR.
Using OR widens your search, because it means that an article will be retrieved
if it contains either keyword. For this search that means that the articles must
have either feminism OR gender as well as cinema OR movies.
Database Fields and Limiters:
So far, we’ve focused on the information you enter in the blank search boxes. But
many databases also provide database fields next to the search boxes.
Database fields are usually found in drop down boxes or menus so you can
select the field you want to search.
In many databases, the database field that is pre-selected is Keyword. This is
the default option in many databases, and it means that the database searches
for the term as keyword throughout all the available information for the article – in
the title, author name, magazine or journal title, the abstract, and even the full-
text if it’s available. This kind of search is often a good place to start your search.
Other common fields in library databases include: author, title, subject terms, and
date. Limiting your search to specific database fields can help you get more
precise results. For instance, if you are looking for articles written by a famous
journalist, like Bob Woodward, it is best to select the author field. If you are
looking for articles about Bob Woodward, it is best to use the title or subject
Limiting your search to a specific field can greatly improve your results by
retrieving items that are more specifically focused on your topic. This way, you'll
spend more time selecting the best sources for your topic, and less time clicking
through pages and pages of irrelevant results.
If you look below the search boxes at the top of a database search page, you’ll
see some additional fields. These additional fields are called limiters, because
they provide another means of restricting the results of your search - beyond
searching for a specific keyword in the article.
One of the common types of limiters available is the date limiter. This limiter is
very helpful if you need to find only very current articles or if you need to find
articles published around the time an historic event occurred. The exact format of
the date limiter varies from database to database, but it should be clear how you
need to enter your date range. If it’s not, check for a database help screen or
contact a librarian for assistance.
Another limiter is one that restricts your results to a particular type of document
or, in newspaper databases, to a specific section of the paper. Some databases
also have a limiter that restricts your results to scholarly, or peer reviewed,
journals. This can help you if your instructor wants you to use scholarly sources
for your research.
The full text limiter is helpful if you are running short on time, and you can’t wait
for interlibrary loan or document delivery. Using this option restricts the results to
articles that are available full text in the current database.
In this tutorial on constructing a search statement, you learned
how to combine keywords in a search statement
and how to use field-specific searches and limiters to focus your search.