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ENGWR 302 (Spangler)

ENGWR 302 (Spangler)

Advanced Search Tips

Search Tips

Here are some useful tips here that will help you become a pro user of library databases, Google, and more, so please give yourself time to go through the information, practice what you can, take some notes. Try and take away at least three useful search strategies!

Search Tips

Exact Phrase

Exact phrase searching involves placing a phrase in quotes when we want a search engine to retrieve results for a specific name, title, song lyrics, or concept. This is great for searching for song lyrics on the web, and specific titles or phrases in any of our research databases.  

Try It with Lyrics

  1. Open a new Google Search

  2. Type “I'm going through changes” (include the quotations) to see just how many different bands used these lyrics!

The phrase search is also useful when you are trying to search for commonly used phrases without also grabbing a bunch of unrelated hits. Good phrase searches could include:

  • "right to die"
  • "climate change accord"
  • "Immigration Reform and Control Act"

Try It in a Database Search

  1. Visit JSTOR -- one of the best humanities databases.  

  2. First, try searching for god help the child. Note how many results you get -- these include all items with god and help and child in their record. Scroll down to see some of the odd results.

  3. Now try searching for “god help the child” (include the quotations). Now see how many results you have to work with. Good job!

Boolean Operators

Boolean Operators are used to connect and define the relationship between your search terms. When searching electronic databases, you can use Boolean operators to either narrow or broaden your results. The three Boolean operators are AND, OR and NOT.

We use Boolean operators to join keywords into a search string that will more accurately define our search. Below are three search strings using the keywords: women and pioneer. The image illustrates how these operators behave, and how they’ll change the meaning of your search query. 

Boolean Operators

Search String

Results Include

women OR pioneer

All items about women, and all items about pioneers. (most results)

women AND pioneer

Only items about both women and pioneers. (fewest results)

women NOT pioneer

All items about women, but none about pioneers.



Hint: Use OR to connect synonyms. Example: teens OR adolescents

Try It

  1. Click on OneSearch

  2. First, type martin luther in the search box and click search.

  3. Look at how many results you have! Your first few results are relevant, but as you scroll down you’ll start to see items about Martin Luther King Jr. included in your results. The German theologian and the American civil rights leader are definitely not the same person.

  4. Now try entering "martin luther" NOT "martin luther king" and click search.

  5. How many results do you have now? Scrolling down, you’ll find that records for Martin Luther King Jr. have disappeared. Well done!


Truncation is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings. Use truncation as a smart shortcut when there are multiple variants of a word. To truncate a word, you will add the * symbol to the root of the word, as in the example below.

Keyword: educate

Variants: education, educating, educator, educated, educators, educational, educationally

Truncated: educat* (includes all other forms with the root word educate)

Try It

  1. Visit ERIC -- an excellent US Department of Education maintained database.

  2. First, try searching for children and motivation. Note how many results you have.

  3. Now try searching for child* and motivation. See how that works? You’ve included all the variant terms in your search results.


Bibliographic, or item, records in library databases are comprised of fields containing specific pieces of bibliographic information. Common fields are author, title, publication date, publisher, ISBN, and call number. Using field searching can help you narrow down your results.

Try It

  1. Go to OneSearch

  2. First, try a search for Bell Hooks -- an activist, writer, poet, and educator. You can see there’s been a lot written about her.

  3. Click on the Advanced Search and explore the field options. I always prefer using the Advanced Search -- you can get very specific!
  4. Set up Advanced Search so that: Author/Creator contains Bell Hooks 

  5. You will end up with sources written by Bell Hooks. Sources about Bell Hooks (written by someone else) will be eliminated.

Citation Tools

Citation tools are available to help you appropriately format your references and stay organized in your search. The format of your citations will be determined by your instructor, typically following the standard format for the subject area. For example, Psychology courses will always use APA formatting, and English courses will always use MLA formatting. As a student taking courses in multiple subject areas, this can be very frustrating -- we understand! Fortunately, there are several tools available to help you get started on citations. Get in the habit of using these tools to save you time -- remember, we’re working smarter now.

Hint: Include the permalink in your research planning document so you can revisit your sources, as necessary.

Warning: You must check your citations against the format style guides to be sure they are accurate.  

All citation generators use the information that appears in each of the record’s bibliographic fields to create the citation. If information in the record is incorrect, it will also appear in the citation incorrectly.  

Check out this article. Note that the author’s name is in capital letters in the record -- robot error! When you select Cite you’ll see that the author’s name is incorrectly capitalized. You will need to fix this before turning in your assignment.

Citation generators on the web (Citation Machine, EasyBib, etc.) can be helpful, but use caution. You are still responsible for entering accurate information into the appropriate fields. This is often problematic when folks use these tools to cite websites. Citation generators are not capable of finding all of the required information on many websites (publication date, author, publisher), so they simply omit pieces of the citation. Not good! I would recommend using SCC's MLA 8th Edition Style Guide for citing websites so that you do it correctly the first time.

Strategic Searching

In the beginning of this course we established that searching is a skill, one that we all work to improve and refine with practice. Below you’ll find some of the key strategies that will help you become a more efficient and successful researcher in any environment.  

Limiter Search

Limiters are incredibly powerful search tools that allow the researcher to control the types of results that are retrieved. You are probably familiar with using limiters on product websites, so we’ll practice in both types of search environments.


Click  here for results for college athletics. Look at the Show Results For menu on the left-side of the page. Under Books, you probably see some narrower categories like Higher & Continuing Education, Sports History, and Sports Law. These are limiters. They limit your results to more specific items.


See the results of a basic search in OneSearch for college athletics. Look at the Filter Results menu on the left-side of the search results.   

Try It

  1. On the college athletics OneSearch results page, check the box for Scholarly Journals. Then click on Apply Filters. Note the change in the number of results you retrieve.

  2. Under Publication Date, try changing your date range to sources published between 2000 and 2020.

  3. At the top, you’ll see your current search, where you can remove limiters if your results become too narrow.
  4. Go to Active Filters and delete the Scholarly Journals limiter.  

  5. Now choose to limit your search results to Books under Resource Type. Click on Apply Filters.  

  6. Scroll down to Location and choose Sacramento City College to limit to items that are physically located on the SCC main campus.  

Database Search

The advantage of using OneSearch is that you’ll get a wide variety of results. But the disadvantage of using OneSearch is that you’re likely to get results from all types of discipline areas, some of which will be totally irrelevant to your research question. Remember, databases are collections of related items. You can really target your research, and filter out irrelevant results, by choosing to search individual databases that focus on your subject area.  

Try It

Visit the Los Rios Research Database page . Choose one of the categories relevant to another course assignment or your own interests. At the top of many of these individual databases, you will see a link to Publications or Publishers. These are the individual journals, newspapers, magazines, and other data sources from which you will retrieve results when you search these databases. Browse a few of these, clicking on their titles to learn more about these publications. If you have already declared a major or are a practicing professional, it’s a good idea to get familiar with the major journals being published in your area.

Subject Term Search

Many databases will include a searchable thesaurus or index where you can enter keywords to find the appropriate/official subject term (just like the Library of Congress Subject Headings), and related terminology. If you are having trouble finding results based on your keywords, try searching for additional terms using the Subject Term feature.

Try It

  1. Visit Academic Search Complete -- a multi-subject academic database.  

  2. Search for the following keywords: artificial intelligence

  3. Look for Subject Thesaurus Term on the left-side of the page. Click on it.

  4. Read through the list of possible subjects and check the box next to Artificial Intelligence

  5. The resulting list of search results will be about Artificial Intelligence. Any sources that contain the words artificial intelligence, but are about something else, will be eliminated.

Publication Search

Every scholarly journal, magazine, trade journal, and newspaper has their own purpose. They have different editorial standards, work with different universities and professional organizations, and are publishing content that aligns with their purpose. As you continue to develop research skills in your areas of interest, you may find that there are individual publications that consistently publish articles that interest you. Instead of haphazardly stumbling upon articles from these journals in a general database search, you can go straight to the source.

Visit the Los Rios Research Databases page and look for Journals by Title in top menu bar. You can browse publications by discipline, or you can search for a particular title. Click on a subject area of interest. Note that you now have the option to perform a very targeted keyword search by searching within a given journal for articles published on your topic. Cool, right?

If your publication is housed in an EBSCO database, you can even take it a step further and set up email alerts that will notify you when a new article is published in your field of interest. Interested? Check out these instructions.

Google Search

The best and worst thing about Google is the amount of content a person can retrieve in a single search. But Google offers much more than the single search box. Did you know that you can perform an Advanced Search in Google?  

Check out all of these options for really targeting your search results. One of my favorite strategies is using domain searching. Filter out all of the .com results, choose only .gov resources, or look for information published by educational institutions with .edu domains.  

If you’d like to learn about more ways to use Google, I strongly encourage you to explore  Google Power Searching -- a free, two-part course offered by Google. You’ll have all kinds of skills to share!

Twitter Search

One way to see what’s trending in a particular area, and an excellent way to assess public opinion about controversial topics, is the Twitter advanced search . You do not have to be a Twitter user to access the search results, so feel free to explore! In election years or after major events, this is a particularly powerful search tool for learning what people are saying (or maybe ranting?). Use Twitter searching to help you brainstorm current topics, to explore public opinions from a political science or sociological standpoint, or to see what’s happening in different geographic locations in real time.  

Check out the MLA Format guidelines for citing a Tweet (bottom of page).

Image Search

Google Image Search  is a great place to search for photos that you can use in course presentations. The advanced search options allow you to specify dimensions, color schemes, and user permissions for each photo. It is best practice to choose from images that are labeled for noncommercial reuse -- which means you are using for some purpose or project for which you are not being compensated. Pixabay, another useful image site, offers numerous photos that can be used for free. 

Check out the  MLA Format guidelines for citing a painting, sculpture or photograph (middle of page).