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LACS 263W: Plantation America: Smart Searching

This guide is designed to help students with their research in Professor Goddard's Fall 2017 course


Standard Features of Databases

Electronic library catalogs like DiscoverE and other databases like JSTOR and Academic Search Complete provide bibliographic references to or full text of journal articles, books, and other materials. While there is no standard “search interface” (how the search screen looks and how your search is interpreted), almost all databases offer the following standard features that will help reduce the confusion and enable you to perform effective searches.


Online Help

Provides details on database-specific features and sample search strategies.


Simple/Basic/Quick Search vs. Advanced/Expert Search

Simple/Basic/Quick Offers basic search options (keyword, author, title, subject)
Advanced/Expert Supports more complex search strategies, limiting features, etc.

Field Searching vs. “Search Everything”

Search for words in a specific field (by author, title, subject, etc.), or for words in all fields simultaneously (commonly called a “keyword” search). A keyword search is generally broader in that it returns more results than a specific field search.

Controlled Vocabulary

Usually labelled as “subject headings” or “descriptors,” these are standardized subject terms, assigned by the producers of many (but not all) databases. Use these standardized terms to refine a search, but omit capitalization and punctuation. Controlled vocabulary terms vary by database.

Cities and Towns--Growth

Truncation and Wildcards

Use a truncation symbol to retrieve word variants or plurals. Use a wildcard symbol to substitute or replace a character. These symbols vary by database; check the database’s Online Help for the correct symbol.

adopt* retrieves adopt, adopts, adopted, adoption
wom?n retrieves women or woman

Phrase Searching

Most databases will search for terms within double quotes as a phrase.

“weapons of mass destruction”

Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT)

cats AND dogs (both terms must be present)
cats OR dogs (one or both terms can be present)
cats NOT dogs (the second term cannot be present)

Proximity operators (ADJ, W/1, SAME, etc.):

Particularly useful for searching full text. Operators vary by database; check the database’s Online Help for the correct operator.

african ADJ american (african must be ADJACENT to american)
hillary w/1 clinton (hillary WITHIN 1 word of clinton)
philip morris SAME tobacco (philip morris in SAME sentence as tobacco)

Limiting Features

These are often only available via a database’s “Advanced” search screen. They help to narrow your search results, for example:

Limit by Date(s) or Year(s) of publication
Limit by Language
Limit by Publication Type (periodical, book) or Document Type (article, book review)



Saving, Printing, or Emailing Results

Some databases have special instructions for saving, printing, and/or emailing search results; check Online Help for details.
Jana Lonberger, U.S. History Librarian, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emory University
January 25, 2005
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