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Library Research: A Quick Guide for Writing Assignments

Learn to find, read, and use database articles for a writing assignment.

How to Search a Library Database

How do I know what words to enter into a Search Box?

Create a list of potential search terms using words from your assignment or chosen topic. 

note-taking icon


What are search terms?

  • keywords - a general list words related to your topic.
  • subject searches - words listed or bolded database lists
  • nouns - the names of something or someone -- people, things, places


  •  Examples of  Search Terms for psychology topics:
    • depression 
    • bipolar disorder
    • schizophrenia

Make a list of basic search terms related to your topic. Search terms can be:

  • Keywords - depression, bipolar,  autism
  • Phrases - "mental health" -  try enclose phrases in quotation marks if you get wonky results
  • Subjects - lists of words included with database articles

Make a list of alternate terms

  •  WHY? Different authors will use different terms that mean the same thing so If you can't find enough information using one search term, try another
    • Choose Synonyms - these are different words that mean the same thing as your primary search term
    • Consult a Thesaurus to find related or alternative words or synonyms.  
  •  Example  Alternate Search Terms found in a Thesaurus:
    • main search term: depression  |  alternative search terms: melancholy, despair, dejection, blues, sadness
    • main search term: bipolar disorder (main)  |  alternative search terms: bipolar, bipolar illness, manic-depression
    • main search term: schizophrenia (main) |  alternative search terms: paranoid schizophrenia, psychosis, hallucinosis

Basic and Advanced Searches

Will I find enough information just doing a Basic Search?

  • Yes! If your topic is broad. basic search icon
    • Use the single Basic Search box you see when a database opens
    • Type in a search term or phrase. Remember - nouns work best

Why do I see 3 search boxes on a page sometimes? 

  • This is the Advanced Search tool
    • Advanced searching lets you combine search terms. (This is why making list is a good idea!)advanced (3) search boxes icon
  • When you get tens of thousands of results, advanced searching can help you narrow down the results
  • You may never need to use Advanced Search strategies, but it's an option if you are having trouble finding the right information.

Two Advanced Search Strategies to try:

  • Boolean Searching - separate search terms with AND, OR, or NOT
    • depression AND hopelessness
      • finds results with both search terms
      • narrows results
    • (mania OR insomnia) AND "depressive episode"
      • finds results for either search term specific to climate change
      • place the OR terms in parenthesis as a signal to the database to search variations on the similar concepts
      • expands results
    • depression NOT financial
      • finds results in mental health categories not the historical period of the Great Depression
  • Truncation - do one search instead of several by using the root of a word plus the * symbol
    • depress*
      • finds articles than contain words beginning with the root "depress" - depression, depressive, depressing, depressed, etc.

Searching for Psychology Resources

Psychology Search Terms  

Basic search -  type in the name of the psychological condition you plan to research:

  • schizophrenia 
  • bipolar disorder
  • anxiety
  • addiction
  • personality disorder

Search Strategies

Clarify a specific conditions by adding words:

Some words, like "depression" can refer to a person's mental health or to the Great Depression, the economic period of the 1930s, so clarify your search by adding the term "mental health."

  • depression and mental health

Add words to clarify the specific type of condition you are looking for

  • social anxiety
  • panic and anxiety disorder
  • seasonal depression

Try to search for terms in initials / or spelling out the words:

  • PTSD
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • OCD
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder

Try searching both terms that mean the same thing:

  • self-injury
  • self-harm

Try a combination of terms:

  • depression and anxiety
  • narcissistic personality disorder
  • borderline personality disorder

Combine multiple search terms in a single search string is a type of advanced search that saves time

For example, instead of doing two searches, one for "narcissistic personality disorder" and a second one for "borderline personality disorder" you can find information for both by setting up this advanced search string:

  • (narcissistic OR borderline) personality disorder

In this search string you are telling the database to bring back articles about either narcissistic OR borderline personality disorders. As you skim the results you can compare them to see similarities or differences and make a decision about which to pursue further or it you would like to research both.

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