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Academic Search Complete

The databases are fantastic tools, but you may get frustrated using them because they don't work like the search tools you're used to, like Google or Yahoo.

Want to start right away? Use the QuickGuide to get the basics.

To search the databases effectively, keep two things in mindkeywords and Boolean logic

DON'T search the database by typing in questions or phrases. Use keywords, instead - single words or phrases that describe your topic. Brainstorm as many keywords as possible.

Once you have keywords, connect them with Boolean operators: type andor, or not between each keyword. To find articles with ALL of your keywords, connect them with and

  Instead of typing this: what are the benefits of social media for students?

  Do this: social media and benefits and students  

The most important thing to realize about the databases is that they do not work like Google:

Google interprets. Databases match.

Google is great at interpreting your search terms! You can type whole questions or search phrases into Google and get millions of results.

Take a look at this one, a popular argument paper topic, technology is destroying society. Google that, and you get over 11 million hits:

 That same thing in Academic Search Complete?

No results. What's going on?

It does not mean there are not articles in the database about technology and its effect on society, only that we are not searching for them the right way.

Whenever you type something into the database and hit search, the database looks for articles that match what you typed. So in the example above, the database is looking for an article that saysexactly, "technology is destroying society," and it can't find one.

So what is the solution? Think in keywords!


Pick out the most important words or phrases about your topic. What words do experts use about your topic? Is there more than one word or phrase for the same concept?Searching Google or Wikipedia for your topic can be a good way to come up with keywords.

Need help with keywords? Contact a librarian, or try this Thinking Tool linked below.

No one combination of keywords will bring you back everything on a topic. You may have to do several searches in the database using different combinations of keywords to make sure you're not missing some resources.

For this topic, our most important keywords are technology and society. But those words are too general - we want specific words!

In this example, you could brainstorm specific types of technologies (Internet, social media, cell phones, texting, etc.), specific ways they negatively affect society (distraction, low grades, car accidents, cyberbullying, etc.), and specific segments of society they may affect (students, teenagers, children, etc.).

Boolean Operators

Ever heard of Boolean Searching, Boolean Operators or Boolean Logic? Don't worry if you haven't!

Boolean refers to combining keywords with the words AND, OR, or NOT. It's a way to expand or limit the number of search results you get in the database:


[keyword 1] and [keyword 2] = articles with both keywords


[keyword 1] or [keyword 2] = articles with either keyword


[keyword 1] not [keyword 2] = articles will have keyword 1, but do not have keyword 2 


See the tabs above for a detailed explanation of each operator.

If you want the database to find results with ALL of your search terms, connect them with the Boolean command AND:

This search will find articles with both the words social media and students. I limited my search to Full Text articles, and got 558 results: 

That's a lot of articles to sort through, so how can we narrow down our search results? Add another keyword connected with AND:

The database is going to search for articles with all of our search terms: not only social media and students, but also grades now.

The more keywords you have connected with AND, the fewer results you're going to get:


 social media and students = 558 results

social media and students and grades = 9 results

If you want the database to find results with ANY of your search terms, connect them with OR:

  This search will find us articles that mention either Facebook or Twitter. When you limit your search to full text results, there are over 12,000:


 Check out the difference in results when you use AND instead of OR:


Facebook OR Twitter = 12,011 results

Facebook AND Twitter = 1,884 results

 You can see that connecting keywords with OR will expand the number of results. You can use this to your advantage by combining different Boolean operators in one search.

In this search, we're looking for articles with the words students and twitter. We get almost 400 results:



 In this search, we're looking for articles with the words students and facebook.  We get just over 1,000 results:


 But you don't have to do two separate searches! We can combine both by mixing Boolean operators:


 So in this example, we're asking the database to find articles with the word students, and also EITHER Facebook or Twitter. 

Notice how I've put parentheses around (facebook or twitter) to group the terms together. It's like the PEMDAS acronym in math to remember order of operations - things that are in parentheses are calculated first.

As you might expect, adding OR is going to expand the number of search results we get:


 students and twitter = 307 results

students and facebook = 686 results

students and (facebook or twitter) = 873 results

If you want the database to omit results with a certain word, connect it with NOT.

This works well when the same word has two different meetings. For example, if you were searching for social network, but kept getting results about the movie called "The Social Network," you could type social network not film, or social network not sorkin.

This also works if you want to exclude articles that mention a word related to your topic.

In this example, we're searching for articles with the words social media and identity:


 But let's say you're not interested in all forms of social media - maybe you don't care about people who blog. You can make sure NONE of your results include the word blogs by using the Boolean operator NOT.

Notice how I've included parentheses again around the keywords we want to keep together:


 We've gone from 128 results to 117 results: the database has removed the 11 results that included the word blogs from our list.

 social media and identity = 128 results

(social media and identity) not blogs = 117 results| Central Library: 281-476-1850 | Generation Park Campus: 281-998-6150 x8133 | North Library: 281-459-7116 | South Library: 281-998-6150 ext. 3306