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Database Search Strategies

Sault College subscribes to a wide variety of online databases that provide full-text articles and citations for thousands of magazine, journal and newspaper titles. The steps below will help you construct an effective search and achieve targeted results.

Library Staff are available to assist you and each database offers online help.

How to Develop and Perform a Database Search
1. Choose a Topic

For example: Nutrition for Children

2. Brainstorm a variety of keywords to use in your search and further define your topic
  • Use a dictionary, thesaurus, or online sources to find synonyms for your keywords.
  • Alternate search terms for example "Nutrition for Children" may include the following: Nutrition = diet or food. Children = child, youth, juvenile, or kids.
  • Choose the right keywords and combining them in a logical way will ensure that your search is effective and successful.
3. Design a Search Strategy
  • Use limiters provided by the database to get specific results.
  • Limit examples:
    • Full-text articles only
    • Peer-reviewed articles only
    • By publication date (only articles published in the last 'X' years)
    • To a specific journal title
  • Design a search using Boolean Operators (OR, AND, NOT), truncation, or wildcards to create a precision search.
4. Select Databases for your Search  
5. Display the Results of the Search and Modify as Required
  • The list of results will appear in chronological order, newest first.
  • Select an article to view details (citation, abstract, or full-text).
  • If you cannot find full-text articles, try searching a different database or contact library staff.
  • If you find a fantastic article that the library does not have full-text for, consider using our Interlibrary Loan service. If we can obtain it from another library, it will be in within 3-10 business days
6. Evaluate Search Results
  • Evaluating search results requires you to address five basic questions:
    • Who is the author/publisher? Who is the information intended for?
    • What kind of source is it? Is it reliable?
    • Why has it been produced? Is it biased? Is it intended for commercial use?
    • Where was the source published?
    • How current is the information? When was it made available? 
7. Record your Search Strategy
  • Keep a record of your successful search strategy by copying it or saving it electronically. Some databases (ie, Ebsco) provide an option to create an account and save searches in the database.
    • You must be signed in to use the save feature on databases‚Äč
8. Select Records to Print, Download or Email
  • As you look through your search results, you can select articles by clicking the title or checkbox on the record.
  • Articles can be printed, downloaded or emailed.


Boolean Operators

One of the most powerful capabilities of online searching is the ability to combine concepts.  Boolean operators control the logical relationships among concepts and link two or more search terms to make your search more precise. 


Boolean logic consists of three logical operators:

  • AND
  • OR
  • NOT


Simple Search without Using Boolean Operators

Chart of Search Results for Each Search

See explanations below

Search Terms






College OR University


College AND University


College NOT University



The “AND” Operator

The AND operator requires that both of the search terms are present in each record. 

The AND operator narrows your search and retrieves less results.

The more terms we combine in a search with AND logic, the fewer records we will retrieve.

Example: “College AND University” will only find the documents where the term ‘college’ and ‘university’ both appear.


The “OR” Operator

The OR operator broadens your search and retrieves more results.

OR logic is most commonly used to search for synonymous terms or concepts. It collates the results to retrieve records containing one term, the other, or both.

Example: “College OR University” will find documents with the terms “college”, documents with the term “university” and documents with both terms.


The NOT Operator

The NOT operator narrows your search and retreives less results by excluding a term. 

Exercise caution when using NOT: the term you do want may be present in an important way in documents that also contain the word you wish to avoid.   

Example: "college NOT university" will only find records where the term ‘college’ is present and the term ‘university’ is not present. 


Using Quotations (Phrase searching)

Quotations force words to be searched as a phrase, in the exact order you type them.  For example “working mothers”.  If you had searched for working mothers without quotation marks, you would have retrieved all records with working and mothers in the document, but not necessarily the words combined as a phrase.  Note:  Databases automatically assume you want an AND between any two words typed without a boolean operator (working AND mothers).


Truncation Searching

Truncation symbols allow you to search for suffix variations of root terms or words.

Examples are – Child* (will search for child, children, children’s), Nurs* (will search for nurse, nurses, nursing, nurse’s).  The characters used to represent Truncation searching will vary by database, so always check the help files.


Using Parenthesis (Nesting)

Use parenthesis to specify the order in which search terms will be combined.  Parenthesis MUST BE USED to group terms joined by OR when there is any other Boolean operator in the search.  Without parenthesis, terms will be combined in left-to-right order. 


If you enter: The Database:

birds and dogs or cats

Provides records containing both birds and dogs, and records containing cats whether or not they contain birds or dogs
(birds and dogs) or cats The same results as above
birds and (dogs or cats) Searches for records containing dogs or cats or both, then searches this subset of records for records containing birds so that all records contain birds and dogs OR birds and cats OR birds and cats and dogs

Wildcard Searching

Wild card symbols allow you to search for spelling variations within the same or related terms.  Example – Wom?n (will search for both woman and women), Colo?r (will search for both colour and color).  The characters used to represent Wildcard searching will vary by database, so always check the help files.


Including or Excluding Words (+/-)

Your search may include a common word that is ignored by the database or your results may include words that you want to exclude.  To force the database to include a word in your search, use a plus sign (example:  Star Wars Episode +1).  To force the database to exclude results with an irrelevant word, use a minus sign.  For example, to find articles about surfing on the water and exclude articles about surfing the internet, search for:  surfing –internet.


To Access Library Databases

  1. Select the Databases and eResources tab on the library’s Webpage (
  2. Select the database that you would like to begin searching.
  3. If you are off-campus, you will be redirected to a remote login screen and prompted for your username (student/staff number) and password (library PIN).  PINs are emailed to your college email address at the start of every semester.  If you do not know your library PIN, contact the library for assistance.

Ron Doyle Library
Sault College
443 Northern Avenue
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
P6B 4J3
(705) 759-2554 ext. 2711

Off-Campus Access

To access the databases from off-campus:

  • Select your database
  • Login using your student number
    (Username) and PIN (Password)


Don't know your PIN?
PINs are emailed to Sault College accounts on the 6th of every month.
Look for "Library Notice" from "Sirsi".
Or you can reset your PIN on your own.
Follow the instructions here: