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SOWK 6201: Searching Strategies for Databases

Search Strategies

When searching for journal articles or dissertations in VSU’s databases, here are some important strategies to keep in mind.


Use Keywords


Keywords help focus your search on what you’re looking for.

Instead of this phrasing: "What are strategies to increase student motivation in Title I schools?”

Try:  student motivation AND Title I


Boolean Operators


There are three Boolean operators – AND, OR and NOT.



Helps narrow your search.

Take the example from above:

     student motivation AND Title I

We tell the search to look for all articles that contain both of these phrases “student motivation” AND “Title I”.



Helps broaden your search. We tell the search that we will accept both possibilities in our search results. Oftentimes, synonyms are linked using OR. 

Example: Title I OR Elementary and Secondary Education Act OR ESEA



Can help make your search more precise. If a result that is different than what you intended keeps dominating your search results, you can use NOT to remove it.

Example: If you were interested in what motivates students in Title I schools in every grade BUT sixth grade, you could search:

student motivation AND (Title I OR Elementary and Secondary Education Act OR ESEA) NOT sixth grade




With each result page, there is a section on the right that gives you options to limit your results. You can select limiters like: 

  • Full Text
  • Type of information source (Academic Journals, eBooks, etc.)
  • A specific journal
  • Subject 
  • Location
  • Publication date 
  • Peer Reviewed/Refereed/Scholarly Journals*


*When searching for journal articles, your sources are most likely required to be scholarly/peer reviewed/refereed. Dissertations can be helpful/useful sources but they are not considered to be peer-reviewed. 




Try entering your search terms in quotations marks or parentheses. 


Quotation Marks

Can help keep your search terms together.  

So instead of: student motivation

Try: "student motivation"



Can be useful if your keyword has different terms that can be used to refer to it. Putting these terms in parentheses tells the search to look for all of these terms. This strategy can help you get more relevant results. 

Example: ("Title I" OR "Elementary and Secondary Education Act" OR ESEA)


Best Practices

One way to find best practices on your topic is to take your existing search (formulated per the box Search Strategies) and expand upon it. 

For example, if you wanted to find best practices about adoption, a broad search you could try is: 

"adoption" AND "best practices"

Accessing Articles

Once you have found an article, you will probably want to read it.  To access the article, you will look for symbols like these: 

Icon for HTML Full Text

Icon and PDF Full Text

Icon and Find It @ VSU


Click on the respective symbol to access the article. 


HTML Full Text 


As a rule of thumb, avoid HTML Full Text when possible as it will resemble a web page and will not contain page numbers, making citing more difficult.


PDF Full Text 


PDF Full Text links you to a PDF copy of the article that you can then e-mail to yourself or download.


Find It @ VSU


If you see the Find It @ VSU button, this indicates that there is an extra step to access the article. The article may be found in another database or resource or it might available through an Interlibrary Loan (ILL).