Tips from NARIC on Perfecting your Database and Online Search Strategies: The Basics

The information specialists at NARIC field a variety of requests for information by phone, mail, email, and through our virtual reference chat service on a daily basis. In fact, many of our patrons contact us solely for our excellent search skills and ability to uncover literature and resources using search strategies they never even thought of! To better serve our patrons we are beginning a new blog series entitled “Tips from NARIC on Perfecting your Database and Online Search Strategies.” Each blog post provides information and tips for searching various databases including our own database, REHABDATA.

Every database and search engine is different, but here we cover some of the basic concepts which should work in some form in the database you’re using.

AND/OR/NOT, +/-, and ANY, ONE, “PHRASE”, and NONE

It is likely that at some point you have used an online search engine and/or database to locate information on personal, academic, or business-related topics. When utilizing online search engines and databases, you can make your searches more effective by using Boolean searching, phrase searching, and +/– options.

Boolean searching is a type of search that allows users to combine keywords with operators such as AND, NOT, and OR to produce more relevant results. PubMed is a database that uses this strategy. The two most common search Boolean are OR and AND. AND is the most common form of basic Boolean and is usually implied when searching keywords such as disability earnings (i.e. the same as searching disability and earnings). Using OR requires at least one of the terms joined by it to appear somewhere in the document, in any order. Searching for head injury OR brain injury will guarantee both concepts are covered in your search. NOT is a very handy tool, but not one that is often used. It helps eliminate potential false positives. You may want research on Deaf but not DeafBlind, so might search for Deaf NOT DeafBlind to see what PubMed has on hand.

Search engines like Google may use + or – or “phrase searching” for advanced search options. Quotation marks indicate that the words should be searched as a phrase in the order they are listed; for example, “stroke rehabilitation.” You could also combine phrases to cover your bases: For example, “stroke rehabilitation” or “stroke facilities” will produce results that contain at least one or the other phrase. The plus (+) symbol can be used to perform a search common words that are usually ignored in search strings; for example, searching which versus that, only versus would be searched as which and that are terms that are ignored by search engines and/or databases. Quotation marks and/or + can be used in those incidences. The minus (–) symbol can be used to eliminate keyword(s) from the results. For example, searching “stroke rehabilitation facilities” –subacute will limit the results to not include subacute.

Some search engines and databases, like ours, give you the option to search for “any words”, “all the words”, “exact phrase”, and “none of these words”. These options are the same as OR, AND, quotations, and NOT strategies.

If you want to dive even deeper, , Boolean search results can be narrowed further by using the operators AND NOT, NEAR, and parentheses ( ) otherwise known as “nesting.”

In our next article, we’ll take a look at the advanced search functions of our own REHABDATA and Program databases. Until then…happy searching!

Boolean Resources:


About cgraves34

Media Specialist for the National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC) funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR) through Administration for Community Living (ACL) under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
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