1) Phrase searching -- use either quotation marks (Discover) or parentheses (Five Colleges catalog)
“extramarital affairs” = anything with the phrase “extramarital affairs”
2) Boolean searches – invented by a man with an aesthetically ugly last name, these searches allow you to find citations while often weeding out what you don’t need. The two main operators are AND and OR, and they work precisely the opposite way you’d imagine.
Example #1: “extramarital affairs” and lesbians = anything that has both terms in the article
Example #2: affairs or infidelity = any source with either term
3) Truncation – this technique entails lopping off the end of a word and replacing it with a wildcard sign: * ? $
Example: lesbian* = lesbian, lesbians, lesbianism
Example: Internal truncation is also handy. Use a ? for when you want to replace just one letter within a word: wom?n = woman, women
3) Subject headings and descriptors – these will be your best friends in a database. They will lead to major concepts that you can search with and describe your topic.
4) Limit your search – if you get hundreds of results, use “narrow results by” options, along with subject headings/thesaurus terms to pare down your results.