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Information Searching Guide: Searching for information

Use this guide to study the principles of scientific information searching: narrowing down a topic, choosing the right search terms and information sources and evaluating the search results. Mastering these valuable skills will prove useful in your studie

Where your search word should be found?

Normally the search engines search for a given search term as extensively as possible. They browse the text mass and the results consists of every match where the word appears. This often leads to the result group growing very large. On the other hand, the search accuracy suffers because in most found documents the word might not be in a particularly essential role.

To achieve a precise search, it's useful to search for a search term in a restricted part of the record, or field. Suitable parts are, for example, title, abstract and keywords/subject/topic.

If you are searching for the work of a particular person, use the author's name as your search term, and you can target the search to the author-field.

The field that you are searching in, is usually selected from the drop-down menu next to the search box.

Use a search diary to help you get organized

It is worthwhile to remain systematic in searching for information. One way is to record your searches e.g. into a search diary (download template below). At its most simple, a search diary includes:

  1. The name of the database in which the searches were made
  2. The keywords used in the searches
  3. A summary of the results

Picture: Essi Kannelkoski, TAMK

Searching in databases

In most of the databases you will find a Basic search, that is a simple search box. Advanced search is a more targeted and precise way of searching.

You may also browse the resources. In most of the databases, you will find this function in browse or publications. There you will find an overview of what the database contains.

Limiting is important. You may limit your search before or after your search.

Limiting searches can be found in limitations tai filters. Editing your search can often be found in refine search tai edit search.

How do you search?

Search engines only search for character strings input by the user that can be words, abbreviations or something else. You may make your searches more effective with a few useful tools.


Databases may be unable to search for different word inflection forms without a little help. This is done by using a truncation character truncation character or wild card. The truncation character varies depending on the database. In the example below the truncation term is *.

In some databases there is automation, and the system looks for multiple variants or inflected forms of the same word. For example, Andor search service finds English terms in inflected forms, but the Finnish words need to be truncated by the user.  In the Finnish Finna service, English terms should be truncated, but Finnish terms there is automatic stemming. It is advisable to try your searches both with and without truncation.

  • product* finds product, products, production, productive, productivity, productization, productize…
  • behav* finds behaving, behave, behaviour, behavior, etc.

Searching with phrases

If searching with a concept or a phrase that includes two or more words, the phrase is written inside quotation marks. In this case the words must be in the given order and exactly in the written form. Words inside quotation marks can also be truncated in some databases, but not all.

  • "social media"
  • "corporate social responsibility"

Combining search terms and creating a search query

Search groups can be combined using Boolean operators, which are AND, OR and NOT.

  • quality AND control means that every match contains both given words
  • marketing OR advertising means that every match contains either of the given words
  • energy NOT nuclear  search retrieves matches that contain the word energy but will not contain the word nuclear

You can combine many of the previously mentioned methods when retrieving information. In that case the search is constructed similar to a mathematical equation


  • "service quality" AND (customers OR CRM)
  • (nurses OR nursing staff) AND ("work satisfaction" OR "well-being at work")
  • "internet of things" OR IoT

N.b. With the words combined with OR-operator, you need brackets. With them, you tell the search system that the OR operation is done first and the search group is combined with the other parts of the search. Alternatiively, you may use the advanced search and group your search terms in search boxes.

Other tools

In some international databases you may use the proximity operator. With that, you make sure that your combined search terms appear in an limited distance from each other.

Targeting search in key words

In some databases (most databases in Ebsco and Proquest) there are thesauruses or subject terms that are database-specific and ofthen discipline-specific. Keyword or terms can be added to searches by targeting your terms to keywords (eg. in subject-field in Ebscohost).  In some databases this also includes keywords provided by the author (author-supplied keywords). In some databases the search is directed via the databases' terminology system, eg. some medical databases.

Booleans help you to combine search terms

AND-operaattori rajaa hakutuloksia niin, että kumpikin hakusana esiintyy.  nurses AND ergonomy

OR-operaattorin avulla tehdään haku, jossa jompikumpi tai molemmat hakusanoista esiintyvät hakutuloksessa.     work well being OR satisfaction at work

NOT-operaattorilla rajataan hakua niin että tietty hakusana ei saa esiintyä tuloksissa.   nurses NOT emergency care nurses

Evaluating the search results

Too many results?

Did you get too many results? You can specify your search with the following means:

  • Replace an overly general word with a more topic-specific term
  • Avoid truncating the word too early or write the whole word
  • Add specifying search terms using the AND-operator
  • Use a proximity operator, if using the AND-operator produces an excessively large result group
  • Narrow down a characteristic with the NOT-operator, for example storage NOT "data storage"
  • Focus the search on a specific field (title, index word, abstract etc.)
  • Focus the search on a specific part of the relevant database (for example you can choose a specific discipline in Science Direct)
  • Narrow down the search by specifying the wanted years of publication

Too few results?

Not enough results? Try the following:

  • If you get zero results, check if the words are written incorrectly.
  • Good matches contain new search terms? Try them out!
  • Use truncation with the search terms. If you already used a truncation mark, try truncating the word earlier to provide more alternative spelling forms.
  • Do your search terms have synonyms? Combine them using the OR-operator. "mobile phone" OR "cell phone"
  • Use a broader term. For example, if you have searched with the phrase "solar energy", try "renewable energy"
  • Exclude less important words connected with the AND-operator
  • If you have searched from the title field, try expanding the search to all fields.
  • Try other, suitable databases

Wrong results?

Didn't get relevant references?

  • Narrow down to a suitable field of science. This can be done in some databases, such as Scopus or WoS.
  • Try other, more suitable databases
  • Check the meaning of your search terms from a dictionary
  • If you use abbreviations in the search, make sure they mean what you intend them to mean. An abbreviation can have several meanings.


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