Skip to Main Content

Electronic Resources at The New York Public Library: Effective Database Searching

Databases, searchable newspapers, writing aids, and other resources at NYPL. Guide by Rhonda Evans.

Effective Search Process

  1. Start broadly and narrow down the results using advances search settings. For example, you can narrow by dates, by location, by author, by key words, etc.
  2. Use controlled vocabularies and database thesauruses. Sometimes we don't get results simply because we are using the wrong terms. Using a controlled vocabulary or the thesaurus provided by that particular database can help find the terms to find more relevant results.
  3. Use Boolean logic. Databases use certain operators to help define searches for example:
    1. Inserting AND, OR, NEAR and NOT
    2. Asterisks to truncate words
    3. Question marks as wild cards.
    4. Use quotation marks (“”) to search for exact phrases.

These can help provide more accurate search results. Here is a list of commonly used boolean operators.

Boolean Operators

From the ProQuest website.

Tips for Beginning Search with Databases

  1. If a topic is something that you are just getting familiar with start with "reference databases" to get an encyclopedic overview. 
  2. Use bibliographies! Bibliographies provide a list of resources on a specific topic, and are a great way for students to find resources that they did not think of before.
  3. Use databases that contain collections or are multidisciplinary. This allows you to search a topic across hundreds of journals and documents at one time. 


Works Cited and Article Bibliographies

Once you find an article or book that is really relevant to your topic make sure to check the author's bibliography and works cited page. You will most likely find many other helpful resources on those pages as well.