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Alaska's Digital Archives

General Search Tips for Online Databases and the Internet

Produced by the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library

Learn about:

Common database and Internet searching concepts and features.

Search features and flexibility vary greatly between individual search engines and online databases. It will be necessary to READ your search engine's or database's "HELP" or "How to Search" pages to appropriately define your search. Review which options are available for the tool or product that you plan to use. If you use a particular product frequently, you may want to make a few notes to keep on hand. Search engines have default way of combining search terms. Determining a search engine's defaults may require reading the documentation and experimentation. Or, you can modify the default logic by combining terms and using special operators to clearly define your search statement.

Reading the "HELP" screens will show you how to refine your search and offer tips that increase search accuracy and save time. Listed below are features commonly available in search engines and online databases.

General Strategies For Searching:
  • Plan your search before you begin. Write down key words, phrases, and ideas related to your topic.
  • Use synonyms where appropriate: ex.:
cat feline rabbit hare dog canine discover find
moose alces alces (scientific name)
  • Use multiple spellings as necessary: ex.:

Khaddafi    Quadafy    Kaddafi    Qadaffi

Athabascan Athabaskan Athapascan Athapaskan

  • Use Boolean searching to combine or limit concepts.
    (denali or mckinley) and (bear or bears)
  • Consider using phrases, many databases use quotation marks "" to define phrases. ex.

global warming

  • Use nesting ( ) to logically group terms, similar to a math equation.

(denali or mckinley) and (bear or bears)

  • Use proximity terms to define phrases. Common proximity operators:

near   after    before    adjacent

  • Use punctuation or special symbols that having particular meanings, such as, wildcards or truncation. Using truncation or a wildcard saves time, as you can do one search rather than several.

Truncation is adding a symbol to the end of a root word to retrieve word variations. In most catalogs and databases the truncation symbol is an asterisk ( *). For example: alaska* would retrieve records containing Alaska, Alaskan, Alaskans, Alaska's, Alaskaland, Alaskafest, and any other word that begins with those letters.

Wildcards are special characters that replace a letter within a word. Truncation symbols vary between products, so read the "Help" screens. Using wildcards can be useful in retrieving documents containing variant spellings of the same word. Common wildcard symbols are *, $, #, and ?. For example: If the wildcard symbol is $, typing klond$ke would retrieve records containing Klondike or Klondyke.

  • Revise your search as needed during the process based on the number of hits and the relevancy of the results.

Be aware of differences you may encounter:

  • Some search tools and products are case sensitive.
  • Additional features may be available, such as, limiting by publication year, format, or language.
  • Differences between Quick (also called Basic) and Advanced searches.

Material may be quoted or reproduced for educational purposes without prior permission, provided appropriate credit is given. Any commercial use of the material is prohibited without prior permission from the Rasmuson Library.

Created: 08/01, S. Hahn
Updated: 09/03

Searching with Controlled Vocabulary

Added: 12/11, P. Adasiak

Librarians and other advanced researchers may wish to use our collections' "controlled vocabulary" -- uniformly applied terms for places, persons, organizations, and other subjects.

    Use the Advanced Search interface found here and choose to search "Selected fields".
  • From the lower menu of specific collections, select the one whose controlled vocabulary you would like to browse. (At this time, the Alaska's Digital Archives software does not allow simultaneous searching of several institutions' controlled vocabularies.) When you have selected one, "show terms" links will appear at the right of the search boxes.
  • Using a drop-down menu by the search boxes, select the field whose controlled vocabulary you would like to browse (Creator, Personal Name, Time Period, etc.).
  • Click on "show terms" next to the field you have chosen. A small window will open with a list of the approved terms from that field. If the window opens but no terms are listed, that field uses free text rather than controlled vocabulary.
  • Click once on the term you wish to use. That term will now appear in the search box.
Select the collections to add or remove from your search