RIT Libraries: How Do I....?: Search databases?

Information on how to use and navigate the RIT Library resources


Searching a database is very different from searching Google.  While Google can be a productive tool in the brainstorming phase of a project, it is very rare to find full-text scholarly articles on Google without having to pay a subscription to the journal providing the article.

RIT already pays that subscription for you, and its databases are designed to give you more specific and comprehensive results than a general search on the Internet.

There are a few common search techniques that can help you find what you are looking for on most scholarly databases, online catalogs, and commercials search engines.  Those search techniques are outlined in the tabbed box at the bottom of this page.  If you are not getting the results you want during your search, contact your librarian to help you search the databases.

All images on this guide are either created by the guide maker, or courtesy of Creative Commons.

Creating Helpful Search Terms

Before you begin searching databases, it will help you to produce a list of keywords and phrases that you can use in your search.  This will allow you to create several searches that may produce a variety of results related to your topic.

In order to create a list of these key words and phrases, you will need to brainstorm about your topic.  Here are some helpful steps:

  • First, write down your topic.
  • Think of as many terms related to the topic as possible.
  • Group your terms based on similarities - you will want to search like-words consecutively in order to avoid confusion.
  • Eliminate the keywords that may be too general.
  • Once you have a list of terms that make the cut, decide how you will use them with your digital search tools.
  • Feel free to ask friends and family for ideas.  They may bring up terms that you didn't think of at first!

Finding More in "References"

If you have ever read or written an academic paper before (even in high school), chances are good that you have heard of "References," or "Works Cited," or a "Bibliography."  This is the list at the end of the paper that tells the reader what sources were used in the process of writing the report.

Bibliographies can be a useful tool as you are searching for sources for your own projects.  Use the bibliography at the end of an article that you've read as a tool for finding further articles or search terms related to your project.

For example, if you are reading an article about experimental photography, and you find the following reference listed at the end of the article, you can then search for that article or use keywords from the title.

Based on this reference, you may choose to search "Frankencamera" or "Computational Photography", or you may choose to look for the article in your college's databases.

Let the bibliographies at the end of your readings lead you further into your research.

Search Tips

Boolean operators can be used to connect search words together, either narrowing or broadening your results.  The three basic boolean operators are:

  • AND
  • OR
  • NOT

Use these terms to focus your search, and to connect search terms to find what you are looking for.  Below if a table with further explanation and examples.

Boolean Operators
 Operator    What Does it Do?  Examples 

This operator can help you narrow your results.  It tells the database to include ALL of your search terms in each result.

advertising AND theory; cloning AND ethics AND human
OR This operator will broaden your results. It tells the database to include ANY of the search terms in the resulting records. advertising OR marketing theory; cloning OR genetics OR gene sequencing
NOT This will help you narrow your search.  NOT tells the database to ignore certain topics that may be implied by your search terms. business NOT marketing; cloning NOT sheep; art NOT painting


Truncation is the process of searching using the root of a word.  This broadens your search results, giving you results related to all the possible search terms that could begin with that root.  

In order to use truncation in your search, you must type the root of the word followed by a symbol (usually *, but these symbols may vary in different databases; check the database help page to be sure to use the proper symbol).


If you are searching for anything related to photography, you may use the search term: photog*.  This will yield results for:

  • photography
  • photograph
  • photographer
  • photographic

By using the root of the word, you have expanded your search results to include many results related to photography.


Library databases and catalogs are made up of fields that contain specific pieces of bibliographic information.  Using these fields to create more specific search queries will eliminate some frustration and greatly narrow down your results.  Below is a picture of the RIT Libraries' catalog, which includes tabs that allow you to search different fields.





So, if you are looking for books by Massimo Vignelli, not about him, it would help you to search for him using the "Author" field.  This will narrow your results to items written by him.

Some databases will recognize words typed next to each other as phrases. Others will add an implied "AND" search operator between adjacent words.  If you want a specific phrase to show up in your search results, a common practice is to includ that phrase in parenthesis. 



-Scenario 1-

You type:  medical ethics of cloning 

Database sees: medical AND ethics of AND cloning

Your results: any record that contains ALL of those search terms, but not necessarily all of them adjacent to one another


-Scenario 2-

You type:  "medical ethics of cloning"

Database sees:  medical ethics of cloning (as a phrase)

Your results: records that contain your search terms adjacent to one another, as a stand alone phrase or within a sentence



Stop words are words that are insignificant to the search, but are used often in phrases and occur commonly throughout text.  If these words are included in a database search, the database may yield far too many results.

Some common stop words include: 

  • a
  • an
  • are
  • the
  • if
  • in
  • of
  • be 
  • into
  • which

If the stop words are a significant part of your search, include them, but most of the time you should avoid using these words in a database.  Choose the most important terms associated with your subject and search them using boolean operators.  This will help you avoid using stop words.



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Use of RIT resources is reserved for current RIT students, faculty and staff for academic and teaching purposes only.
Please contact your librarian with any questions.

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