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MSE 601: Graduate Student Resources

Information about library services, resources, and searching.

Database Search Tips

General Database Search Tips

Most databases allow you to use these search techniques to refinement your search:

Truncation (Wildcard)

Tells the database to search for the beginning of a word with different endings; these symboles might stand for multiple characters, one character only, be used at the end of a word, in the middle of a word or at the beginning.  More than one wildcard may be used in a database, with differing actions.  Check the help pages of each database to determine the appropriate symbol(s) and what it does; the most common symbols used are:  *   ?    #. 

Example: Engineer* - searches for engineer, engineers, engineering

Caution:  if the word stem is too short, you will retrieve many words that are not of interest to you.  Example: dop* searches for doping, dopant, dope as well as doppler.


Allows you to specific how close two words are to each other in the text. Common techniques include

  • putting 2 or more words in quotation marks (" "), forcing the database to search for the words right next each other in that specific order; Example: "ion beam lithography"
  • "Near" and "with", abbreviated n and w respectively, sometimes with a number to specify the number of words between two search terms. Example: ion w beam w lithography  or   ion w1 lithography

Field Searching

Search a specific part of a database record, for example in the Author or Subject field.  This capability varies between databases, so check the help pages for the particular codes used by the database you are searching. In most databases, you will select the field to search by using a drop down menu


Beyond Your Initial Keyword Search

Most of us start our research with a keyword search in a database.  Where do you go from there as you develop your knowledge of a specific area?  These strategies will help you expand your research:

Review Articles

Reviews are helpful because someone else summarizes the research in a topical area (up to a particular date), and provides some context for that research.  This is helpful as you begin research in a new or unfamiliar area. Look for the database features that allow you to limit your search to reviews

Look at an article’s reference list

When you find an article that's perfect, look at the article's bibliography or list of references. What sources did the author(s) cite?  Those articles might be useful to you as well.

Cited References

You can also check to see what other articles have cited that perfect article. Look for features like a "cited by" search of list of "cited by" references.  Google Scholar is a great place to do this. This technique works best for “older” articles that have been around long enough for other authors to discover them.

Author searching

Do you know of a researcher in the subject area?  Or have you seen an author or two who published several articles or papers on the topic?  If so, search specifically for papers written by them to see if you find additional relevant articles.

Search with And, Or, Not - Boolean Logic

Most Library databases incorporate the use of Boolean logic (and, or, not) for searching. With some databases, these search connectors need to be entered; with others, you select the connector using a drop down menu.


Requires that all of the terms are included in the search results. In other words, it only retrieves articles/records that contain all of your keywords.

Example:  searching for the doping of silicon with boron = silicon and doping and boron


Allows a search for synonyms, or concepts that are similar to one another. think of it as meaning “also” or “too”. 

Example: searching for three different substances, such as silicon, germanium and selenium, and any mention of any of the substances would be useful = silicon or germanium or selenium


Requires that the term after the “not” be excluded from the results. Excludes a specific unwanted or unrelated topic.

Example:  searching for “ion beam lithography” without any mention of the phrase “electron beam lithography” = "ion beam lithography" not "electron beam lithography"

Variations include using the plus sign (+) to require terms and the minus sign (–) to exclude terms from the results.