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BIO 232 - Plant Physiology: Search Tips

A general introduction to upper=level library research for plant biology studemts

Keyword searching

Library Databases use keyword searching.  Do not search with sentences (natural language searching), such as, "How do I find research papers on the tree octopus."  Start with the most specific words or phrases, and then get broader

You can start your search process by writing down a thesis sentence describing your topic,

  1. Pick out the important words or phrases -- these are your keywords
  2. Make a list of synonyms for each of the words or phrases
  3. Search and see which are the best for your topic.
  4. Put phrases in quotation marks:  for example "temperature change"

KEYWORDS or KEYWORD PHRASES are words or phrases that describe your topic.

Usually descriptive adjective and nouns.

When you do a keyword search in a library database, it searches minimally, the

  • Title
  • Subject or Descriptors  
  • Abstract
  • Author


Boolean Searching

Boolean Search

And / Or / Not

This is an algebraic concept, but don't let that scare you away. Boolean connectors are all about sets. There are three little words that are used as Boolean connectors:

  • and
  • or
  • not

Think of each keyword as having a "set" of results that are connected with it. These sets can be combined to produce a different "set" of results. You can also exclude certain "sets" from your results by using a Boolean connector.

AND is a connector that requires both words to be present in each record in the results. Use AND to narrow your search.

Search Term Hits
whales 999 hits
dolphins 876 hits
whales AND dolphins 123 hits

The words 'whales' and 'dolphins' will both be present in each record.

OR is a connector that allows either word to be present in each record in the results. Use OR to expand your search.

Search Term Hits
ebola    97 hits
Marburg 75 hits
Ebola OR Marburg 172 hits

Either "ebola" OR "Marburg" (or both) will be present in each record.

NOT is a connector that requires the first word be present in each record in the results, but only if the record does not contain the second word.

Search Term Hits
Enteric bacteria 423 hits
Salmonella 352hits
Enteric bacteria NOT salmonella 275 hits

So a search for enteric bacteria that excludes salmonella would look like this

Search Symbols

?     A question mark  is called a wild card.  In a search, it replaces one character within a word.

  • for example:  you can search Salm?nella if you are unsure whether it is spelled salmanella or salmonella (correct spelling).
  • a pound sign (#) is used as a wild card if you want to replace 2 or more letters within a word.

*     An asterisk is used for truncation. It is always placed at the end.  It searches for all words that start with the root phrase before the pound sign. The * represents any number of letters at the end of the word.  Some databases call a search with a "star" a wildcard search.

Search Tips for Specific Databases

Proximity Searches in EBSCO databases

You can use a proximity search to search for two or more words that occur within a specified number of words (or fewer) of each other in the databases. Proximity searching is used with a Keyword or Boolean search.

The proximity operators are composed of a letter (N or W) and a number (to specify the number of words). The proximity operator is placed between the words that are to be searched, as follows:

Near Operator (N) - N5 finds the words if they are within five words of one another regardless of the order in which they appear.

For example, type tax N5 reform to find results that would match tax reform as well as reform of income tax.

Within Operator (W) - In the following example, W8 finds the words if they are within eight words of one another and in the order in which you entered them.

For example, type tax W8 reform to find results that would match tax reform but would not match reform of income tax.

In addition, multiple terms can be used on either side of the operator. See the following examples:

(baseball or football or basketball) N5 (teams or players)

oil W3 (disaster OR clean-up OR contamination)


Difference between "Scholarly-peer reviewed" and "Academic" journals in the ARTICLES search and other EBSCO databases

Scholarly Peer-Reviewed are journals with a peer-review editorial process.

Academic journals are publications that have articles with footnotes and/or bibliographies, and are intended for a research audience.

All scholarly peer-reviewed journals are academic journals.  Not all academic journals are have peer-reviewed articles