COR 110 Burkholder: Step 3: Search for Information

Planning a Search

Once you have chosen the database you are going to search, OR you want to use the general Saints Search box found on the library's homepage, it is time to start thinking about how you are going to go about it.

Start by breaking down your research question into its major concepts.  

Example: How has the recent reintroduction of wolves impacted biodiversity in Yellowstone?

Concepts: biodiversity, Yellowstone, wolf reintroduction

Next think of alternative ways to describe these concepts:

Example: Wolf reintroduction-> wolf reestablishment, rewiliding, wildlife restoration

noun_important_258298.pngThis is also a good time to search your topic in Google to see how subject matter experts are talking about it. What words or terms are they using? Take those back into the database. 

You will use these concepts as search terms by combining them to find articles that meet your research interest.  

A good strategy when searching is to start with a broad search and then use limiters and subsequent searches to narrow your results.  Below are some helpful tips to keep in mind when searching library databases or using Saints Search to search the library catalog.

Search Strategies

Search Strategies

Keyword Searching

Keyword searches of databases will perform a search of the entire bibliographic record and the full text of the article where possible.  This means that keyword searches will return the broadest possible results and it is possible to become overwhelmed with unrelated results.  Fortunately you can combine keyword searches with more restrictive criteria to help control the results of your search. 

Example: Searching for the phrase Cormac McCarthy as a keyword will return articles written by him, articles written about him, and even articles specifically excluding him if the author mentioned him by name.

Specific Phrases

If you want to search for a specific phrase then place that phrase in quotes when keyword searching.  

Example: Dungeons and Dragons will show results for the popular game but also anything which deals with dungeons and dragons more generally.  Searching "Dungeons and Dragons" will produce results where that specific phrase appears as written and will help narrow results to the game.

Boolean Operators




Watch this short video overview about how to use the above boolean operators. 


Controlled Vocabulary

Authors refer to ideas in a number of different ways.  Authors from different countries might spell the same words differently.  Word meanings might change throughout time or with advancements in a field.  Or an author might refer to an idea without ever explicitly using a word to describe it.  This can make searching for information difficult to do reliably.  Should you search for information on Bell's Palsy by searching for Bell Palsy or Bell's Palsy?  What about facial palsy or facial paralysis?  Do you have to think of every conceivable way to describe an idea in order to make sure you are getting the results you need?   NO!  Databases account for this issue by using a "Controlled Vocabulary" to describe the included records.  Often referred to as "Subject Terms" or "Major/Minor Headings", these vocabularies might vary from database to database, but will be applied consistently within a given database.  By utilizing the controlled vocabulary when searching, the researcher ensures that they access all available content on a given topic within the database.  And by combining these terms with Boolean Operators, it is possible to create very specific searches which quickly address a given research question.


After running your search you will likely be presented with more results than you can practically look through.  This is a great time to start applying limiters. 

In Saints Search (or Primo) search results, you will find relevant limiters on the right hand column under "Tweak My Results."  Applying limiters will refine your existing search results making it more manageable and more relevant. In individual databases, limiters can usually be found on the left hand column. Common limiters are date range for when your resource was published or created, author, format or resource type (ebook, journal article, media), full-text, and for the Saints Search in particular, availability (online or physically at the library).


Citation Tracking

Once you find an article, it may be helpful to check the bibliography for works the author cited.  When possible it is also helpful to check for articles which have cited this article as well.



Watch the 2 minute video overview about citation tracking and how it can help you in your research. 




If you are not finding the results you expect in the Saints Search library catalog or a database, take a moment to double check the scope and coverage of the resource you are searching.  It might also help to Broaden or Narrow your search, or go back to Google to learn other terms subject matter experts use when discussing your topic.

Broaden Your Search

When you are not finding enough results consider broadening your search by:

  • Adding similar or broader terms using the OR operator which might include your topic.  Example: "Ultraviolet Rays" OR Sunlight
  • Remove overly specific concepts like specific places, specific times, or specific groups
  • Use keyword searching instead of subject searching 

Narrow Your Search

When you are getting too many results consider narrowing your search by:

  • Adding the AND operator to restrict the pool of results.  Example: Peanut butter AND Jelly
  • Adding the NOT operator to exclude results.  Example: Martin Luther NOT King
  • Adding quotation marks to specific phrases of keyword searches. 
  • Select narrower subject terms.  Example: Use Dementia, Vascular in place of Dementia.

Go back to Google

Try searching your topic on Google to see how people are discussing the subject. 

  • What terms are subject matter experts using? You and I may say we have a stomach ache, but a doctor may call it abdominal pain. 
  • Is there different spelling for any of your keywords than what you have been using?
  • Use these newly found terms in a new search.

Interlibrary Loan (ILL)

If you are searching for a Journal in the Saints Search Library Catalog and don't get any results, or you come across a citation in a database or search elsewhere and can't access the full-text, you can request to ILL the item. 

What is Interlibrary Loan?

Interlibrary Loan (ILL) is a service that allows Carroll students, faculty, and staff to borrow materials and receive copies of articles or book chapters that are owned by another institution.  If Corette Library does not have a book or article that you need in our collection, you can place an ILL request to receive it. 

When do I use it?

When you are using a scholarly source for research, you may be mining its references or works cited pages to see what resources those authors used that could also be relevant to you and your topic. Or, you may be searching a library database and see an abstract for a great article, but they don't offer the full-text for it. Maybe you may come across a book when searching Google Books or Worldcat to see "what else" on your topic is out there, as Corette Library does not own all materials on your topic. 

After you have searched for the item in our Saints Search library catalog or databases and have seen that we do not own it, you can submit an interlibrary loan request so that Corette Library can borrow them item for you from another institution. It's free for you!

How do I make an Interlibrary Loan Request?

You should submit an Interlibrary Loan Request Form for each item you are requesting. The form can be found on the Corette Library homepage under "Interlibrary Loan." 

  • If you are searching our Saints Search library catalog and you come across an item we don't have, you will be provided with a direct link to the ILL form from that item's record; the form will pre-populate with the item's information, but you should always double-check to make sure everything is correct.
  • If you are requesting an item from outside of the Saints Search library catalog, you will need to fill in all the information for the item you are requesting. Take time to put in as much information as you can, as you don't want to incorrectly request something from another library (as they don't know what you want, only you do).

Page Credits

McMaster University Library. "How Library Stuff Works: Boolean Operators (AND OR NOT)." YouTube, 28 Nov. 2016,

University Library California State University Dominguez Hills (CSUDH). "Citation Tracking." YouTube, 18 Dec. 2018,

Wayne State University Library System. "Citation Tracking."