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Effective database searching - Tips on searching databases, library catalogue and Discover!


There are common search techniques that you can apply to almost any database, including article databases, online catalogues and popular search engines like Google.
The techniques described in this guide will help you find relevant results when using LIT library catalogue, Discover!, databases or other online resources.
If you search library resources and do not get the results you expect, contact library staff for advice.

Identify Keywords

Identify your keywords in your assignment or related to your topic.

Before you start searching for information, spend time analysing the question to identify subject words and instruction words.

Do not enter assignment question, very long phrases or sentences into databases. These confuse databases and you will not get accurate results. Pick out the words that indicate the main points of your topic. 

Subject words or keywords are the main ideas or concepts in your topic you will use when searching library catalogue, Discover! or specific databases.    
Instruction (action) words tell you how to answer the question and what your essay should do. It is important that you understand exactly what these words mean so that you don’t misinterpret a question.
Examples of terms describing actions you may be asked to undertake in your assessment tasks: analyse, compare, comment, define, describe, discuss, evaluate, explain etc.

Try it out!

Source: Academic Writing Basics by Megan Robertson, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Creative Commons License Bloom’s Taxonomy Verbs by Fractus Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Expand your keywords

Try to include synonyms in your search. Databases only bring back results which contain the exact words you typed in, so if you include alternative keywords you may find a lot more of relevant material.
TIP: Ask yourself "What other words could be used to describe this concept?"

For example, if you are researching a social services related topic take a moment to write down as many synonyms as you can think of – such as community service, social welfare, support services, social care/work etc.

  • Use an encyclopaedia or dictionary to find definitions (e.g. Encyclopaedia Britannica online, Cambridge online dictionary, print dictionaries and encyclopaedias in the reference section of the library)
  • Use a thesaurus to find related or similar terms.
  • Use acronyms and full names (for example: CSO and Central Statistics Office)
  • Don’t forget to search for people, places and organisations related to your topic.

Video courtesy of University of Houston Libraries.  

Phrase searching

Search for complete phrases by enclosing them in quotation marks “ “. Words enclosed in double quotes will appear together in all results exactly as typed E.g. “social learning theory”

Refine your keywords

  • Truncation is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings. For example, comput* will match all words that begin with compu” (e.g., computer, computation, etc.) Truncation symbols may vary by database; common symbols include: *,!,?, or #
  • Identify words from different cultures e.g. rubbish/garbage/trash or variant spelling: catalog/catalogue
  • Use a wildcard “?”  to substitute a symbol for one letter of a word. This is useful if a word is spelled in different ways, but still has the same meaning e.g. colo?r to search for color and colour, wom?n  to search for woman and women.

Advanced Search

Use advanced search screen to be more specific in your search.
Multiple search terms in multiple fields can be searched for simultaneously. The advanced search should be used when the collection of interested articles is large and needs to be narrowed.
It is also useful when information from more than one field would help in locating items of interest, such as when looking for an author with a common name, which can be narrowed by combining name with subject.

Refinement options

There are refinement options in Discover! and most databases which allow you to refine your search by types of content, specific subject terms and publication dates and more.

In Discover! there is a panel called Refine Results:


In the library catalog there is a panel called Refine your search:

Google shortcuts

There are many shortcuts you can use with Google to get more focused results:

  • site: (search only one website) before your search terms (for example: site:ie )
  • filetype: (restrict search to specific filetype) for example use filetype:ppt to find PowerPoint presentations,
  • filetype:pdf – pdf documents,
  • filetype:docx – Microsoft Word documents

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