Advanced Database Searching

This guide will help you identify keywords and concepts in an assignment topic, explain how to develop a search strategy for databases searching, and provide searching tips.

Topic analysis

When you are given an assignment or essay topic, it is important to:

  • Understand what the question or statement is asking - taking into account direction words, limiting words and key concepts

and to

  • Understand the meaning/s of the keywords used. It's a good idea to consult subject specific resources such as dictionaries, encyclopaedias and handbooks to get definitions and examples of contexts for the terms used.

Developing a search strategy

Once you understand what the question is asking and the meanings of the terms used, you can start to structure a search strategy:

e.g. "Discuss the current use of mobile devices in learning in Australian universities"

Identify the main keywords: Break the topic or question into 2-4 main keywords or concepts, e.g.

Concept 1

Concept 2

Concept 3

Concept 4

Mobile devices




Also keep in mind the question asks for "current" information - how old is current? (Usually no older than five years, but check with your lecturer).

It is important to consider synonyms, variant forms of spelling, variations of words/terms and allow for singular/plural versions of words when developing your strategy - as there is usually more than one way to express an idea. You may find it helpful to use a thesaurus to help identify alternative words.

Concept 1 mobile devices mobile phones iphones smart phones ipads tablets    

Concept 2 learning education study     

Concept 3 universities colleges higher education tertiary institutions

Concept 4 australia australian australia's australasian

Current information

To "truncate" terms to allow for variant word endings, and to apply a date range, see the Truncation section of this guide.

Now that the keywords are sorted into concept groups, we have thought of synonyms, and have allowed for variant forms of spelling, we need to link the concept groups together in a way that a database will recognise.

Most databases use what are called "Boolean Operators", or "connectors" , to join Keywords together.  

You can combine search terms using a number of connectors, but the two most common ways of linking terms are by using the "AND" and "OR" connectors.

The use of Boolean operators,can help you adjust the scope of your search - by either limiting or broadening  your search results.