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George H. Cook Honors Program

Research guide for students in the George H. Cook Honors Program at SEBS

Search Strategies

The best search strategy is different for each topic and database. Here are a few useful ideas:

  • Formulate your preliminary research question. Be prepared to narrow or broaden it as your topic evolves during the search.
  • Once you have defined a research question, list the main concepts along with alternative terms.
  • Combine your terms with Boolean operators for better results: AND will narrow down your search, OR will broaden it.
  • Use your search terms in various combinations to run multiple searches in QuickSearch and selected databases.
  • Take advantage of available functions, such as truncation (dog*), wildcards (wom?n) and phrase searching (“companion animal”).
  • Remember to save results that look good for later use.
Remember: Research is an iterative process. It involves locating and assessing information from multiple sources.

Expert Search Strategies


  • Read the description of the database to find out what you are dealing with and what works the best (HINT: Don't hit the CONNECT button too quickly).
  • Watch a quick tutorial about the particular database. You will be surprised by what you might have missed.
  • Check out the thesaurus for better search terms or controlled vocabulary (i.e., the terms preferred by the database).
TIP: As your research topic evolves, you may want to go back and run more searches to find more sources.


  • Look for "review articles" first. They will provide not only a good review of what has been written on your topic so far, but also an extensive list of references.
  • Once you identify a relevant article on your topic, you can benefit from
    • Its bibliography to find more on your topic, i.e., from its Works Cited or References. This is usually provided for free even when the full text is unavailable.
    • Other articles that cite the first one, which are provided by most databases through the Find Similar function or by Google Scholar through the Cited By function.
    • Subject Headings, the terms the database uses to describe the article. These include MeSH terms, or keywords. Use these in your next searches in combination with the original terms.
    • The author, who might have written more on the same topic, including books and book chapters.

More Tips to Search

For Choosing Databases:

  • Read the description in the "About" section of the database on the listing page.
  • Start with large, multidisciplinary databases.
  • Continue with subject-specific databases.
  • Take advantage of  the Help section of each database.
TIP: You’ll learn more about your topic with each search. Take notes of new ideas and concepts as you go. They might serve as your new search terms. 

Tips for Searching Databases:

  • Identify search terms (main ideas, concepts, theories): female + athletes + nutrition.
  • Connect your terms with AND or OR for better search results. For example:
  1. female AND athletes (both)
  2. women OR female (either-or)
  • Use filters: dates, subjects, article type, population, etc.
  • Search for exact phrase with quotes: "female triathletes"
  • Use truncation: athlet* (athlete, athletes, athletic).
  • Use wildcards (wom$n for woman and women).
  • Mix and match all of the above.
TIP: Improve your results based on your findings by changing your terms and trying again in different databases.


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