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Online Articles Search: Prepare to Search

Learn how to use the Online Articles search, the Libraries' discovery tool that searches most of our databases simultaneously.


Develop Your Search Terms

Before you even start to search in any database, you should develop search terms and decide how you will combine them. Online Articles will automatically look for articles that contain all of the words you enter. Follow these steps to come up with various search statements, or phrases, to enter in Online Articles:

1. Identify the keywords in your research question. Keywords are words that carry content and meaning (see Keywords vs. Stopwords below). The keywords in the research question "What is the feeding range of the blue whale in the Pacific Ocean?" are feeding range, blue whale and Pacific Ocean.

2. Brainstorm synonyms for your keywords. Think of words similar to your initial keywords in case they do not bring up articles relevant to your topic. For example, synonyms for blue whale are baleen whale and Balaenoptera musculus. (See Find Keyword Synonyms below)

4. Create different combinations of keywords. When you only enter one word in a database, you'll retrieve too many articles and most won't have anything to do with your topic. So make up combinations of two or more search terms to narrow your search. Some examples are: "blue whale feeding range," "baleen whale feeding range," and "blue whale food range Pacific Ocean."

5. Add keywords to limit the type of article you retrieve. If you want a to find a literature review, add "review" to your keywords. To find an empirical research study, add "study" to your keywords.

6. Record the search terms you use. Once you get started searching, keep a record of the search statements that worked well, and which ones didn't. Then you won't repeat unfruitful searches in the future and can concentrate on refining the successful searches.

Find Keyword Synonyms

When you don't know synonyms for your topic keywords, you can use online dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference books to find them.

Keywords vs. Stopwords

keyKeywords are the type of words you want to use in a database or library catalog search. They actually have content and meaning and are the "key" to finding relevant articles. Examples are: organelles, photosynthesis, North America.


stop sign 

Stopwords do not have any meaning for a database and are ignored, so leave them out of your searches. Examples are: is, how, why, by.

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