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2021 Michigan Debate Institute

Supports the research needs of the U-M Summer Debate Institute participants

Helpful Search Tips and General Databases

Whether you're using Mirlyn, Google, Google Scholar, PsycINFO,  ProQuest or any other database or index to find background information for a paper, taking advantage of certain search strategies will produce quicker, more relevant results. This page offers some quick tips for you to get started.

1. Consider using synonyms for words example: tired = fatigue, exhausted, weary, etc.

2. Be specific. Take advantage of encyclopedias on your topic as a way of coming up with terminology.

3. To make sure you are searching a group of words, put quotation marks around a phrase:
    Example: "motion pictures"

4. Truncation - if you want to easily search all endings of a word, use *
     Example: ethic* (will search ethic, ethics, ethical, ethically)

You can also try a question mark (?) within a word to broaden the search to include multiple spellings, for example wom?n will find both woman and women.

5. Focus your search by using Boolean operators; AND, OR, AND NOT

  • If you want to combine two terms or concepts use AND
    Example: gender AND family (When using library databases, if you leave out the “AND” you won’t get much)

  • If you want to retrieve more results using synonyms of your key terms, you can use the word or and put ( ) around the terms that you are “OR”-ing.
    Example: media AND aggression AND (teen* OR adolescen*)

  • If you do not want to search a particular facet of a concept use NOT.  Using NOT will exclude the term following "NOT" from the search results
    Example: jazz NOT blues

6. Some databases allow you to perform proximity searches, for example the following phrase, movies w/3 drugs is searching for instances when the term movies is within 3 words of the term drugs.

7. Broaden your search. If you don't find an article on your topic don't assume it hasn't been written. You might just be using the wrong terms or might be searching too specifically to find it. Try broader terms.

8. Most article index databases offer helpful tips on searching.

9. Look carefully at the results from your search. If there is a great article, look at the subject headings. See examples below



CSA screen shot

Additional Advanced Search Tips for Google, Lexis Nexis, Hein Online, Science Direct, Factiva, Proquest, and Taylor and Francis Databases provided by Dave Heidt can be found here: Advanced Search Tips 


Helpful Hints:

  • In general – the more words or phrases that you connect with AND, the fewer articles you get the more words or phrases that you connect with OR, the more articles you get.
  • Look in the article abstracts or the article itself for subject headings or keywords that you can use in your search
  • When you find a good article, write down the search words you used so that you can use them in other databases



Developing a Research Question and Keywords

Having trouble focusing your topic or finding sources when searching in a database? Use the Research Question Generator to develop a research question and a list of keywords. Taking a few minutes to think of a research question and develop a list of keywords will immensely improve the effectiveness and time spent searching for sources in a database.

Database Research Handout

What is a Scholarly Article?

Finding Articles and Journals