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Willis N. Hackney Library

Searching Tips and Tricks


Each field describes specific pieces of bibliographic information.

Common fields include:

  • author
  • title (of the article)
  • journal title
  • abstract (summary)
  • publisher
  • date/year of publication
  • subject/descriptor
  • all text (searches the full text, if available)

When searching, you can limit the search terms to a specific field. Combine multiple fields to make a precise search.

Database Tutorials

Filters and Limits

Filters and Limits let you refine your search and narrow your search results. They are usually located on the left or right hand side of the search results. Even Google has search filters and limits. Some common and useful filters are:

Content Type
  • This will allow you to select a type of material (i.e. book, journal article, newspaper, etc.)
Scholarly Journals
  • Usually a checkbox, this filter can be named "Peer-reviewed" or "Scholarly Journals" and will remove any results that don't meet academic research criteria.
  • The data limit is particularly useful for finding current or historical information
  • Subjects are defined by the database or other governing body (such as Library of Congress). Limiting by subject allows you to be more precise with your search topic. See Controlled Vocabulary Searching under "Searching Concepts" in the left sidebar for more information.



Proximity Searching

Many, but not all, databases allow you to specify that the words you are searching are within a certain proximity of each other. Proximity operators vary by database; consult the database Help screen and look for "proximity".

Some common proximity operators include:
w# = with
  • specifies that words appear in the order you type them in.
  • Substitute the # with a number of words that may appear in between. If no number is given, then it specifies an exact phrase.
  • Examples:
    • genetic w engineering searches the phrase genetic engineering
    • Hillary w2 Clinton (retrieves Hillary Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, etc.)
n# = near
  • Specifies that the words may appear in any order.
  • Substitute the # with a number of words that may appear in between.
  • Example: 
    • korea* n4 nuclear (retrieves "Korea's nuclear weapons", "nuclear policy of North Korea", etc.)
~ (tilde)
  • JSTOR and Summon use a tilde (~) symbol with a numeral for proximity searching.
  • Example:
    • "debt forgiveness"~10 retrieves articles with the terms debt and forgiveness within ten words of each other.