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Search Strategies and Techniques

This guide will walk you through various search strategies you could use in the library databases.

Subject Search

Every article in a library database is tagged to a specific subject term. Subject terms are words that are chosen by the database that describe different topics in the database. Think of subject terms like hashtags on social media, like Twitter or Instagram. If you looked up a specific hashtag on Twitter or Instagram, you would find all of the posts that use that hashtag.

Sometimes there might be more than one way to describe a topic. Think about trains. You could call them:

  • trains
  • locomotives
  • railroad trains
  • freight trains
  • steam engines

You could use the Boolean Operator OR and do a search in a database for trains OR locomotives OR "railroad trains" OR "freight trains" OR "steam engines," but that would be a lot of work. Instead, you could adjust your search to a Subject search, and find every article that is tagged to a specific subject.

Setting up a Subject Search - EBSCO 

Advanced search box in EBSCO set to subject search, which is outlined in red with a red arrow pointing to it.

Setting Up a Subject Search - Gale

Advanced search box in Gale set to subject search, which is outlined in red with a red arrow pointing to it.

Subject searching is a great option if you are looking for general articles about a subject, like an overview about a topic. Subject searching is common when looking for health sciences information. 

Most library databases include an option for searching by subject term. Subject terms are even a filter option in most library databases to refine your search results.

Filtering by Subject Term - EBSCO

Subject filter in EBSCO database.

Filtering by Subject Term - Gale

Gale Filter Your Results with Subjects outlined in red with a red arrow pointing to it.

Even when you are not searching by subject terms, they will still appear when you click on an article. Write down the subject terms that come up with your article. You can always use these as future search terms!

Subject Terms with Article - EBSCO

Subject terms in EBSCO General Databases

Subject Terms with Article - Gale

List of subject terms inside an article from Gale.

Check out this video from Scribner Reference to learn more about subject searching.