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Research How: Information Literacy Toolbox: Searching for Information

Find tutorials on navigating the library website, resources for your research journey through searching, evaluating, & citing, and subject specific guides & databases

Instruct: Searching for Information



Databases are your primary search tool for finding articles on a topic.

To choose an appropriate database, ask yourself which disciplines are relevant to your topic. A paper about global warming, for example, may be relevant to a number of disciplines including environmental science, political science, and business. Once you decide which discipline(s) to focus on, select databases by subject from our A-Z  List.

To find recommended databases to use as starting points by popular disciplines, visit the Research: Start page and select the appropriate subject/discipline on the list on the left.

Use the tools built-in to the databases and other resources to help guide you, such as subject headings, tags, related searches, etc.

  • Continue to search and narrow down your topic to make it more manageable and specific
  • Try not to enter a long string of words or complete phrases in a single search box, some databases won't give you successful search results, try instead to break up you search into a few key words and terms
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat; you may need to repeat the process more than once in order to get to the exact type of results you are looking for
  • Try to use multiple databases, don't be satisfied with the results from just one database
  • Ask for help!  Consult with the librarians.  They can recommend other resources and help you fine-tune your search for information.


So, what is Find it @ FIU?

It's an OpenURL link resolver.  Basically, when you perform a search in one of the library databases, such as Gale's Academic OneFile, you will at times see a button/link labeled "Find It @FIU" next to each article citation, like this: 

Clicking on this button will also provide you with any available full-text options for the article. 


Create a Search Strategy


Combine your keywords/search terms with Boolean operators

  • OR (synonyms: any of these words)
  • AND (restrict: all these words)

Break your research topic into keywords.

  • Many databases use specific terms to label documents, use these "official" database terms from the results that work for you
  • Try the thesaurus or subject headings

Use parentheses with your terms and Boolean operators to create your search phrase

  • exp. (cat OR kitten) AND (wild OR feral OR homeless)
Determine your conditions and apply them to your search as limits or filters
  • exp. publication year, document type, or Peer Reviewed
Place quotation marks (“ ”) around phrases to keep words together. 
  • Use this for an exact quote, phrase or order of the search term. exp. "latin america"
Add asterisks (*) to “fill-in-the-blank” at the end of a word 
  • The asterisk will be replaced by any applicable letters
  • This is called truncation
  • You can use asterisks as a shortcut for OR-ing words that have identical roots
  • For example, paint* will search for paint, painting, painters, painterly, etc.

Each database may have different features that will expedite your searches.

Look at links and/or icons for these functions:

  • In some you can create a free account to save citations, searches, or research for later review.
  • Use the built-in citation generators
  • You can often e-mail citations or the full-text to yourself or a colleague.
  • See if the database allows you to export a citation directly into RefWorks or another bibliographic management program.

Use Boolean operators (the words AND, OR, and NOT) to combine your search terms.

  • Use AND when you want to include all of two or more terms together in the same search – use with independent concepts. AND will limit your results with each additional term.
  • Use OR when you want to include any of two or more terms in a search – use with related concepts. OR will expand your results with each additional term.
  • Use NOT when you want to exclude a term from your search. NOT will limit your results and is useful to avoid retrieving irrelevant items, but use NOT with caution! By excluding an item that briefly mentions the unwanted term, you might be excluding an otherwise useful resource.

You can use as many Boolean operators as you like in a search phrase, but include related concepts in parentheses to keep the phrase organized (this is called nesting). For example:

Dog OR Canine AND Bark NOT Tree: Messy

(Dog OR Canine) AND (Bark NOT Tree): Clear

For more information and practice exercises, see the Boolean searching guide by the Colorado State University Libraries.

Boolean Operators: Pirates vs. Ninjas

An introduction to the basics of Boolean operators. Created to support information literacy instruction at Lincoln Memorial University's Carnegie-Vincent Library.


from Westminster College

Step 5: Research as Inquiry

research as inquiry