January 28th, 2010

One Search or Many?

When using the library databases, most people try to create one search that will get all the articles they need.

Sounds easy, right? Just put together the magic formula of keywords and boolean operators (AND and OR), and suddenly get what you need.

And sometimes it is that easy. But you have to remember that the databases are just trying to match words, and different authors may use very different words. When those words are equivalent, all you have to do is use the OR operator:

juvenile OR adolescent

But what do you do if some authors use a single word term, and other are using multiple words or phrases to describe the same thing? Sure, you can build a search using parentheses to help organize all these different keyword possibilities. If you’ve ever tried that, you’ll know that it quickly becomes unwieldy:

(cybersecurity OR cyberattack) OR ((computer OR network) AND (security OR virus OR attack))


That’s when you should consider doing multiple searches. It’s a lot easier to do a search for cybersecurity and cyberattack, pull out the relevant articles and then do a second search for your alternative terms.

Multiple searches are also helpful when you’re looking for multiple aspects of a topic. For example, if you are looking at family therapy vs. marital counseling and divorce, you can do one search for marital counseling and divorce, and a second search for family therapy and divorce.


Remember, searching isn’t magic. It’s really about adaptability and patience. You go out into the databases, throw some stuff at them, and see what sticks!

I will admit that doing a bunch of different searches can quickly become confusing. Where was I? What did I find? That’s when it’s helpful to use the Database Research Log to keep track of what you’ve done.

– Erin

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