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Database Search Skills: Advanced Search Tips

Introduction to advanced search tips

Databases have more precise ways to limit  and refine your searches. Here are a few different tips. Remember each database company is different, so be sure to check their help pages for more specific guidelines. 

Truncate root words

Truncation allows you to search any ending on a root word.

For example, if your topic uses the word teenagers, then you may also want to search:

  • teen
  • teens
  • teenager

The root word is teen. To truncate and search teen with any ending you would enter:


The asterisk at the end of the root word tells the database to search for that word with any ending. 

This expands your search to find more articles.

Use quotation marks for phrase searching

If you put quotation marks around a phrase, most databases will search for that exact phrase. This works on the internet too! 

For example: 

"diffusion of innovation"

"internet of things"

Use field searching

You can tell the databases where to look for a certain word by using the field searching limiters.  Most  databases use a  default search that includes the title, journal title, abstract, and subject terms only. Choosing which specific fields you want to use will help you narrow your search. 

Field limiters are typically a  drop-down menu located by the search box where you type your search term.  For example, in EBSCO databases you will see Select a Field Optional in the drop-down menu to the right of the first search box. 

Learn more about search fields and indexing in our guide: 

Examples of database field terms

Most databases share field limits. The list below explains some of the more common ones.

  • All Text: Search every part of the article and the information about it (full text, title, abstract, etc.)
  • Author: Type in an author's name and choose this field to find articles by this author. If you don't choose this field, you'll find articles by the author but also articles that are about the author and their works.
  • Title: Look for keywords that you want to appear in the title.
  • Subject Terms: You need to know the exact subject term you want to find. Different databases might not use the same subject terms. 
  • Abstract: Look for your search terms in the abstract (summary) of an article.

Some databases have specialized fields you can search. Most databases have a Help menu where you can learn about their fields. 


These are the field names that appear when you click on Select a Field (optional) in an EBSCO database: TX All Text, AU Author, TI Title, SU Subject Terms, SO Journal Title/Source, AB Abstract, IS ISSN, IB ISBN

You can find Select a Field Optional to the right of the first search box. Use the drop-down menu to see field name options.