Learn more about how the Cal Poly Humboldt Library can help
support your research and learning needs.
Stay updated at Campus Ready.
The content on this page is from the online SkillShop Research Basics. If you complete the SkillShop, you'll earn a badge that can be shared with your instructors or included in your resume.
Databases require that you are very specific about the relationship of the terms you are using. If you search "racist imagery sports" the database will pull up results that contain all of those terms. This can be a problem because different authors will use different terms for the same concept. For example, a paper on this topic may refer to 'bigotry' or 'bias' rather than 'racism.' However, if you were to search "racism bigotry bias imagery sports" then you would only get results that contain all of these terms. If you want to find articles that use 'racism' or 'bigotry' you need to specify this to the database using search operators.
This video shows another example for choosing keywords and how to enter them into a database search field, including how to connect the terms with search operators.
The AND operator will return results that use both terms. For example, the following will only bring up articles that discuss both terms. This means that using AND will narrow down your search results.
Topic A: racist imagery AND sports
With this search, you would only get results that are about racist imagery and sports. Articles that cover racism but not sports won't show up in your list of results.
Topic B: climate change AND perceptions
With this search, you would only get results that are about climate change and perceptions. Articles that are about climate change but not perceptions won't show up in your list of results.
Topic C: disinformation AND social media
With this search, you would only get results that are about disinformation and social media. Articles that are about disinformation but not social media won't show up in your list of results.
The OR operator will return results that contain either term. It is most frequently used for terms that are either synonymous or for terms that perhaps aren't strictly synonyms but that fit the same criteria you are narrowing your search to. For example, the following searches will bring up articles that use either term. This means that OR is a good way to broaden your search to pull up articles on a topic that can't be summed up in one word (and almost all topics fall in this category).
Topic A: racism OR bigotry
With this search, some results may only use the term "racism," some may only use "bigotry" and others will contain both.
Topic B: climate change OR global warming
With this search, some results will only use "climate change" and others may only use "global warming" and others will contain both.
Topic C: disinformation OR online scams
With this search, some results will only use "disinformation" and others may only use "online scams" and others will contain both.
Combining the AND and OR operators is a useful strategy and allows you to conduct multiple searches in one search.
Topic A: sports AND (racism OR bigotry)
This search will include articles about sports and racism as well as articles about sports and bigotry.
Topic B: perceptions AND (climate change OR global warming)
This search will include articles about perceptions and climate change as well as articles about perceptions and global warming.
Topic C: economy AND (disinformation OR online scams)
This search will include articles about economy and disinformation as well as articles about economy and online scams.
The NOT operator will eliminate articles that contain the word following NOT. For example:
Topic A: racist imagery AND sports NOT college
This search will not have any results that include the word "college." This would be useful if you were only interested in professional sports but kept getting a lot of results about college sports.
Topic B: climate change AND perceptions NOT United States
This search will not have any results with the term "United States." This would be useful if you had already found some articles about the U.S. but wanted to find some articles about other areas of the world.
Topic C: economy AND disinformation NOT elderly
This search will not have any results with the term "elderly." This would be useful if you wanted to avoid articles that specifically were about how disinformation is used against the elderly.