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Searching SEBTS Databases: Basics of Searching


"Remember: a computer is as dumb as a hubbard squash"

-- Elizabeth Dow

Need help with searching databases? This page give you an overview of the basics of searching databases. Each database is a little unique, which is why we have pages designed specifically for each database. But, generally, they have some of the same principles. Below you'll find general principles that work in most databases. Keep in mind, most databases have "Help" menus that can aid you as well.

Keyword vs. Subject Search

Most people are familiar with various types of searches. If you are looking for books by a particular author you conduct an "author" search. If you have the title you conduct a "title" search. There are two types of searches that are often confused with one another—"keyword" and "subject" searches.

Most databases are set to a default "keyword" search. Therefore, if you do not choose a particular search (e.g. title) then the search conducted is usually a "keyword" search.

What is a keyword search? A "keyword" search is a search that searches all the information that is associated with an item. This usually includes information like title, author, subject, abstracts (short descriptions), table of contents, and with some databases, the entire document. The database will scour all the information related to a particular item for the word(s) you use as your search term.

Keyword at a glance:

  • Searches Everything Related to an Item (Broad Range of Results)
  • The Searcher Can Use Everyday Terminology
  • Can Help Find "Subject Terms."

What is a subject search? A subject search only searches the information that is in the subject line of a particular item. For example, if you wanted a particular title you would type in the title, choose title from the drop-down search menu, thus telling the database to search only the line marked "title" in the records. A "subject" search is the same concept just applied to the subject line. Subjects are created by cataloguers or meta-data analysts who enter this information into the database. There is a specific language that is used for each database for subjects.

Subject at a glance.

  • Only Searches Subject Line
  • Uses Specific Terminology (It might use a synonym of the word you are searching for)
  • Must Be Exact (e.g. if it is singular you will not find it with a plural search)

You can use a "keyword" search to find the subject headings for a particular topic. Then you can use the subject search and the keyword search in a powerful way to find specific titles that fit your topic. Watch the video below to see this explained.

Limiting Results

Most databases allow you to refine your results in order to find specific types of resources. The most common are as follows:

  • Material Type: This limiter will allow you to limit your results to particular types of materials (e.g. Books, E-books, Audio, Journals).
  • Subject: This limiter allows you to remove all resources except from particular subject headings.
  • Publication Date: This limiter will allow only the results that are published within a particular year, or span of years, to appear in your results list.
  • Language: If you need resources in English, Spanish, or German, this limiter will allow you to limit your results to a particular language(s).
  • Other types: You can limit by genre, geographical location,or publisher, just to name a few. The less common types of limiters are sometimes unique to particular databases and the types of materials they search.

Boolean Searching

Boolean Searching happens when you use one or more boolean operators to conduct a search. A boolean operator is usually a conjunction that is used to limit or expand how the search terms in your search should be used. Important: There must always be one more search term than boolean operators for a successful boolean search.

  • ______ AND ______


  • AND _____

Common Boolean Operators

Most databases will have some sort of help menu to tell you what boolean operators work in their databases.There is an order of primacy to boolean searching. This means that whenever certain boolean operators are used, regardless of the order, the database will always conduct certain operators before others.  Below you will find the most common boolean operators that databases use with a brief explanation of how they function. They are listed in the order of their primacy.

  • ( )— Parentheses are used to make the database do the commands within the parenthesis first.
    • "(Cats OR Dogs) AND Lemurs" will pull all records that contain either cats or dogs first. Then it will pull from those initial results any item that also has lemurs associated with it.
  • Not—This boolean operator will exclude the second term in your boolean command. Items in the database that have the second term associated with it will not appear in the results list.
    • "Cats NOT Dogs" will exclude any results that have the word "dogs" in it.
  • And—This boolean operator must include both terms that are used adjacent to "AND." Items in the database that have only one of the words associated with it will not appear in the results list.
    • "Cats AND Dogs" must include results that have both terms present.
  • Or— This boolean operator will include either term that is adjacent to "OR." Items in the database that have either term associated with the item will appear in the results list.
    • "Cats OR Dogs" will include either term regardless of whether both terms appear.