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ENGL 202A: Effective Writing: Writing in the Social Sciences

Research information to supplement ENGL 202A

Top 11 Search Tips

These tips work in many of Penn State's databases:

  1. Explore the database's "Advanced Search" or "Expert Search." There, you will find ways to improve or focus your search.
  2. To figure out the correct terminology, explore the database's "thesaurus." Or, find one good article, and look at the "subject" words or "keyword" tags that are used to describe the topic of the article. Use words from the thesaurus and subject tags in your search. 
  3. Many advanced search screens provide 2-3 boxes, allowing you to combine topics. Usually, you should use one box for each concept or variable. For example, if you are searching for "diabetes in kids," type "diabetes" in the first (top) box, and "children" in the second box (underneath the first box). 
  4. To find more articles, try synonyms combined with "OR" (in capital letters). For example "children OR juvenile OR youth" will find more articles than simply "children."
  5. Use an asterisk (*) to search for variations from a root word. For example, child* will find articles with the words child, children, or childhood. This "truncation" search usually finds more articles.
  6. To find fewer articles, use "limiters." Most databases allow you to check-off options for peer-reviewed articles, the publication date, and language. 
  7. To left or right side of the search boxes, you may see drop-downs that may allow you to focus your search on the title or abstract of the article. In many databases, this can be a helpful way to narrow down your search. 
  8. After you search, make sure that the database is listing articles according to "relevance," instead of publication date. 
  9. Usually, the first search you attempt isn't the best one. Try a variety of strategies. Take photos or print out your search screens to keep track of which words and limiters you've already used. 
  10. Explore the database's "help" or "support" links to learn additional tips. 
  11. If you need more help, contact your librarian or visit Penn State's Ask a Librarian page.

Tutorials for Social Sciences Databases

Note: some of these resources are created by the database vendors, not Penn State. If the links are broken or unhelpful, please notify your librarian.