Search tips

When searching bibliographic databases, it’s important to remember that the database will only search for what you tell it to search for.


If you’re looking for resources on ‘livestock’, the database won’t assume that you’re interested in searching for cattle, sheep, goats, and poultry, etc. unless you tell it that you are. Be sure to be specific in your searches.

SheepIt is good practice to search for the terms for each concept separately so that you can try combining them in different ways in the Search History of the database.

This has the advantage of enabling you to see the number of search results each concept gets, which might help you to refine your search terms. Boolean operators allow you to build your search up term by term, and then combine these terms in a variety of different ways, depending on how useful the results are.  We will say more about this in the section on refining your search.

There are some useful features you can use when searching:

  • Truncation – This usually uses the symbol asterisk *. You can use it at the end of a search term. This allows you to search for all possible endings, e.g. therap* will find therapy, therapies, therapeutic etc.; diet* will find diet, diets, dietary, etc.
  • Proximity searching using ADJn, NEAR, NEXT – These work best when searching closely related words that you would expect in a paragraph, e.g. therap* NEAR diet*
  • Wildcards – This usually uses the question mark symbol ? It replaces a letter within a word, e.g. an?esthesia will retrieve anaesthesia and anesthesia.

Note – The symbols used for wildcards and truncation vary between different databases and search tools. You should check the help pages for each database to see what they support before starting your search. For instance, Google (as one of the main search engines) doesn’t support truncation with an asterisk – it does this automatically (using stemming algorithms), however asterisks can be used in Google as wildcards.


You can use these features to ensure that searches are comprehensive. For example, when searching for information on cattle, a comprehensive search could be:
(cow OR cows OR cattle OR calf OR calves OR bovi* OR steer OR steers OR freemartin)