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HMSV 1100: Introduction to Human Services (Flathers): Search Strategies

Database Search Strategies

The ability to conduct searches to locate relevant sources for a research paper is an acquired skill. It takes practice.  Below are some search strategies that you can employ in your own research process. If your initial approach doesn't work, don't worry. Try a different combination of words and concepts until you get the results you want. Research is a process and sometimes it takes several attempts to get the search results you want. 

Scholarly Journals?


Q: What is a scholarly journal?

A: These are articles written by people considered to be experts in their fields. They spend years conducting experiments, reviewing other literature on the topic, and writing their article. It often goes through a very intense review process to make sure the information is objective and accurate. It can often take a year or two for it to be published.

Q: What's the difference between a peer reviewed journal, academic journal and scholarly journal?

A: Nothing- all three are just different names for the same idea.

Q: How can I tell if an article is scholarly?

A: Here are some things to look for in order to determine if an article is scholarly:

  • Often start with an abstract, or summary, of the article.

  • Include footnotes or bibliographies.

  • Generally are longer than articles in popular or news magazines.

  • Are reviewed (refereed) by an editorial board and revised before being accepted for publication.

  • Include the language, or jargon, of the subject discipline.   It assumes some degree of subject knowledge by the reader.

  • Report original research or experimentation results.

  • Are authored by subject experts, researchers, or scholars in their fields.   Author credentials are frequently listed.

  • Are published by professional organizations, such as the American Medical Association   (Journal of the American Medical Association), or the National Council on Family Relations   (Journal of Marriage and the Family).

Q: How can I find these articles?

A: Many of the library databases allow you to limit your search results to journals that are scholarly. That does not mean that you will only get scholarly articles though. You want to review the articles that come back and make sure they meet the qualifications.


Q: What is the difference between a scholarly journal, a trade journal and a popular magazine?

A: A trade journal is typically from professional organizations in a specific field, but articles are not peer reviewed. They are a great way to find out current issues and practices in a specific field. Some professional organizations will have a scholarly journal and a trade journal. Popular magazines are like Time, Newsweek, Vogue or Sports Illustrated. These articles are written by journalists and are for the general public. They are a good way to get an introduction to a topic.


Search Tip #1: Boolean Searching +

Quotation Marks vs. AND vs.OR (and a nod to the asterisk)

The approach you take when entering your search terms in a library database will affect the results you get.  Before building a search, think about how you want to combine your search terms.

Putting words in quotation marks - if you want a group of words to appear exactly as written, place the words in quotation marks.  You might use quotation marks so those terms appear as a phrase and not isolated from one another.  Example: "food deserts"

Using AND to combine search terms -  when you combine terms using AND, you will retrieve results in which these terms appear somewhere in the fields searched. Example: Food AND Deserts -  Food could  appear in the first sentence of the abstract and Deserts could appear in the subject fields. 

Using OR to combine search terms - combining terms with OR will increase the number of results that you get.  You would use OR when you have multiple terms that describe your topic. This will broaden your search results.  Example: Sedentary OR Sitting Time


Using an asterisk (*) at the end of a word will bring back variations of the word.

Example: exercis* will retrieve results with the words exercise, exercising, exercisedl etc.

Warning: Be careful to not place the asterisk to early in the word because it may retrieve irrelevant results.

Example: add* will retrieve addict, addicted, addiction, but it will also retrieve results with words like address, addition, additive etc. which are not likely on point. 

Search Tip #2: Subject Headings

Sometimes when searching a database you might enter terms that yield no results.  If this happens, you might want to search the subject or thesaurus to ensure that the terms you are using are appropriate. The subject headings can also help you expand your search terms by suggesting, broader, narrower and related terms.

Example: In Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition you can select Subject..  Enter opioid addiction.  It suggests that you use Opioid Abuse instead.  

Search Tip #3 - Research Article Trifecta