Skip to Main Content

Database Searching Basics

1. Start with a basic search

Start by thinking about the main ideas in your research question. For example, in the question, "How can nonverbal communication be used to solve conflict management issues within organizations?"

These keywords can be used in your search statement: 

nonverbal communication, conflict management, organizations

If you cannot think of any keywords, try a simple search in a database related to your topic. You can find keywords that you can use to improve your search in the abstracts and subject terms given for useful articles in your results.

2. Use AND and quotation marks to improve your results

To be sure that a database includes all of your keywords in a search, use AND between them:

"nonverbal communication" AND "conflict management" AND organizations   

If you place multi-word phrases (for example, "nonverbal communication") in quotation marks, most databases will search only for articles where the words appear exactly as they do within the quotes.

Using quotation marks will often increase the number of useful articles a search finds.

3. Expand your search using OR

If you do not find enough useful articles, expand your search by using OR to include additional, related keywords:

"nonverbal communication" AND ("conflict management" OR "conflict resolution" OR mediation OR negotiation)  AND organizations   

Look through the subject terms, title, and abstract of useful articles you find for keywords related to those that you have used - then try connecting them using OR as shown above. This will often locate useful articles missed in your first search.

4. Expand your search using truncation

Many databases allow you to use "*" (an asterisk) to truncate a term. Truncating allows you to search for all variations of a word using a single search. For example, a search for ... 


... will find articles containing "negotiate," "negotiation," "negotiates," and related words with one search. Broadening a search like this can help you find more useful articles.

5. Exclude words with NOT

NOT is used rarely, for example, to exclude a keyword from your search if the keyword has multiple or closely related meanings:

"nonverbal communication" NOT "electronic communication"