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MOJO Ad Fall 2023: Advanced Database Searching

Advanced Database Searching

Search Engine Operators

Name Operator Span Result
Boolean Operators AND Narrow Records containing all the words it separates
OR Broaden Records containing any of the words it separates
NOT Narrow Records that do not contain the word following it


" " Narrow Records containing the exact phrase within the quotes
Wildcard ? Broaden Records containing variable spellings of a word
Truncation * Broaden Records containing variable endings of a root word


Limiter Purpose
Select Field Choose which area to search
Controlled Vocabulary Utilize database's subject headings
Peer Reviewed Limit to articles examined by a panel of experts
Full Text Limit to items which are available immediately
Publish Date Limit to a specific date range
Source Type Limit to a specific type of resource

Every database is unique, so limiters won't look or work the same across multiple platforms. When you get into ultra-specific subject areas, a database might offer unique limiters you can't find elsewhere. If you are ever struggling to navigate a database, please reach out to your librarian for assistance!

Example Searches

Hairless Cats

A hairless cats sniff a potted plant

Prompt: I adopted a hairless cat but my roommate is still allergic! What besides dander could be causing her allergies?

Search Terms: (cat OR feline OR "felis catus") AND allerg* NOT dander

Search Element Result
cat OR feline OR "felis catus" This will bring in any article that mentions one or all of these terms. If you just searched "cat", you would cut out any articles that use the term "feline" instead.
AND allerg* This will bring in articles that mentions cats AND allergies. By truncating allergy to allerg*, you will also bring in any articles that include allergy, allergies, allergen, and allergic
NOT dander This will remove any articles that talk about dander so you can learn about alternate causes

Last Minute Search

A dolphin leaps into the air while swimming in a rocky cove

Prompt: My assignment is due tonight and I still need three scholarly sources about dolphins! How do I make sure the articles I'm looking at are available?

Search Terms: dolphin OR delphinus

Limiters: full text, peer reviewed

Search Element Result
dolphin OR delphius This will bring in any article that mentions one or all of these terms. This will return articles that refer to dolphins by either their common or scientific name.
full text This will only bring in articles where the full text is available immediately. Use this sparingly, as it removes a lot of wonderful sources.
peer reviewed This will only bring in scholarly peer reviewed sources, as is required by the assignment.

Per My Last Email

Hands typing on a laptop on top of a cluttered desk

Prompt: I'm looking for a book I read for class a few years ago. All I remember is that "Per My Last Email" is somewhere in the title.

Search Terms: "per my last email" (search in field: title)

Limiters: source type: book

Search Element Result
"per my last email" This will search for the exact phrase "per my last email" instead of searching for each word separately.
search in field: title This limits the search term to only look in the title of articles. If you do not select a field, the database will automatically search all text.
source type: book This limits the results to only include books

Women's Rights

A black and white photo of lady justice holding the scales and wearing a blindfold

Prompt: I need primary sources about the women's rights movement in the 1980s

Search Terms: "wom?n's rights" OR "gender equality"

Limiters: publication date: 1980-1989

Search Element Result
wom?n's rights This will bring in any article that discusses women's rights and all of the various spellings (women, womyn, woman).
OR gender equality This will bring in any article that uses the term gender equality instead of women's rights.
publication date: 1980-1989 This will only bring in primary sources from the 80s, A.K.A articles that were published at the time events were happening.


Boolean Operators


Boolean Operators are one of the most common tools people use to search anything from an academic database to a simple Google search. In fact, you've likely been using them without even realizing it!

Narrowing Your Search

There are two ways to narrow your search using Boolean Operators


By using "AND" in between two search terms, you are limiting the results to only items that include both terms.

"search term A" AND "search term B"

Venn Diagram showing search term A and search term B. Only the area where both overlap is highlighted


By using "NOT" in between two search terms, you are limiting the results to only items that include the first term and not the second. While it is used less frequently than "AND", "NOT" is a great tool to have in your back pocket.

"search term A" NOT "search term B"

Venn diagram showing search term A and search term B. Only the part of search term A that is not touching search term B is highlighted.

Broadening Your Search


By using "OR" in between two search terms, you are broadening the results to include any item that mentions either the first term or the second.

"search term A" OR "search term B"

Venn Diagram showing search term A and search term B both highlighted


Boolean Operator Example: World's Best Sandwich

To help illustrate the use of these terms, we will be working on a fictional assignment about sandwiches. For this assignment, you decided to write a paper about why peanut butter and jelly is the best sandwich of all time.


A jar of peanut butter and a jar of jelly sitting in front of a loaf of sliced bread

For the first step of your assignment, you want to find a recipe for the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich known to man. If you just search ""peanut butter jelly", your search might bring back an overwhelming number of results. Additionally, many of the results might only include one term, such as a jelly sandwich without peanut butter. For the most accurate results, you want to combine your search terms using "AND"

Ex: "peanut butter" AND "jelly"

Venn Diagram showing peanut butter and jelly. Only where the two terms overlap is highlighted

Peanut Butter Sandwiches

A table setting with a bowl of peanut butter and a plate with toast with peanut butter, bananas, and cinnamon

For the next step of your assignment, you want to prove that jelly is the best possible match for a peanut butter sandwich. In order to prove this, you will need to gather a list of sandwiches that include peanut butter but do not feature jelly.

"peanut butter" NOT "jelly"

Venn diagram showing peanut butter and jelly. Only the part of peanut butter that is not touching jelly is highlighted.

All of the Sandwiches

For the final step of this project, you want to find out if you missed anything in your other searches, so you want to cast the widest net possible. You want to complete a search that will bring up any article that features peanut butter "OR" jelly.

"peanut butter" OR "jelly"

Venn Diagram showing peanut butter and jelly both highlighted