Hands-On Searching:  Getting Started

The database search techniques that you are learning about in this module are, in some ways, another way of collecting research data.  As such, the accuracy and quality of this data are just as important as experimental, statistical, survey, or other types of data you use in your research. 

Of course, the “data,” or search results, are important for many reasons.  First, the goal is to locate the literature that is relevant to your research topic.  Second, this set of results can be analyzed to provide some additional information.

In this unit, you will learn, or review, how to perform a good search in a literature database.  You will then use this knowledge to search the literature on specific research topics, and analyze the results.  These concepts and skills are transferable to other databases and searches.


  • Explain why a good quality search is essential to obtain meaningful data for analyses.
  • Prepare to search by analyzing a topic to Identify major concept(s) and their relationship, and identify appropriate keywords and synonyms for each concept.

  • Build a search statement that correctly applies basic search “grammar” and “punctuation,” including phrase searching, Boolean operators, and truncation. 
  • Access and search Web of Science, evaluate results for relevance, and select and apply search modifications, such as the addition of terms, to improve results.
Before you begin you should...
  • Know how to access library databases on the library web site from on and off campus.
  • Understand the basic structure of a literature database.
If you need to know more, try these tutorials:

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