Search tips for databases

Last changed: 11 December 2018
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When searching in a database you can get more relevant results by defining what you are looking for and using keywords wisely . Here are some tips before you start.

Find the right keywords

Sometimes, different authors can use different terms for what is same thing. To ensure that you don’t miss potentially relevant resources, reflect on the following:

  • Use synonyms and alternative terms. Even antonyms (opposite words) can sometimes be useful, for example try pollution or degradation, instead of ecology.
  • Use both scientific (Latin) and Swedish/English names for plants and animals.
  • Note the difference between British and American spelling, as most English-language databases include both versions (i.e. sulphur/sulfur, colour/color).


By using truncation (shortening) you can search for a various forms of a word. The symbol used for truncation varies in different databases but it is often an asterisk (*) or sometimes a question mark (?).

Genetically modified potatoes – are they dangerous?
Suggested search terms:
Genetic engineer*, genetically modif*, gmo
Potato*, solanum tuberosum
Risk*, health*, danger* safe*


Combine search terms

When you want to combine several words in a search you should use and, or and not.


and retreives results that include both search terms, thereby narrowing your search. 

potato* and genetically modif*
will retreive records that contain both terms


or is used between synonyms and related terms to broaden the search. 

genetically modif* or genetic engineer*
will reteive records that contain one or both terms


not is used to eliminate certain results, and should be used carefully. You take the risk of missing relevant results when using NOT. 

earth heat* not heat pump*
will reteive records that contain the first term but not the second


When using and and or in a the same search you should place parentheses around the alternative terms/synonyms that you combine with or.

(genetically modif* or gmo) and (potato* or solanum tuberosum)

Phrase searching

Phrase searching can be used when searching for a specific name or a phrase, e.g. the name of an organization, an author, a long title, or a specific combination of terms. The search will only reteive records with the words in exactly the specified order. Many search tools use quotation marks to denote a phrase, other tools offer a phrase search alternative directly in the menu.

solanum tuberosum
increase in larval damage” 

Save time with alerts and RSS

Many search tools offers the possibility to create alerts based on your searches. In this way you do not have to redo the searches in order to find out if there are new results. Instead, you will get a notification when there is something new.

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