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Education Studies: Database Search Tips

Database Search Features & Strategies

Database Features

Feature Description Example
Limits / Filters

Limits and filters provide database-specific recommendations for narrowing a search. Applying them will remove results that don’t meet your search requirements. This will save you time because you won’t need to look through search results pages that don’t include the information you need.

Filtering by data can be too limiting and you may miss foundational articles that support your topic. Using the Reference feature, specifically Cited By, can be a better way of finding more recent articles.

Examples of limits/filters:

  • peer review 
  • document type/format (e.g. journal article, book chapter)
  • publication date
Abstracts An abstract is a brief summary of the article that can help you determine if you want to read the full text. The abstract is usually listed within the search results under an article title.  You can use the abstract to help modify your search by skimming it for additional keywords. In ERIC, you will get snippets of the abstract that include your search terms on the results screen. Click on the record to view the full abstract.


Scholarly articles often have extensive reference lists or bibliographies. Some databases include these in the record and you can link directly to them. You can use references in a bibliography to learn about the research that was used in writing the article which may lead you to additional articles about your topic.

Times Cited / Cited By

Times Cited / Cited By references are the opposite of a bibliography. They can help you find articles that are more recent than the one you are reading. Where bibliographies include references older than the article, Times Cited / Cited By references are newer than the article. It means someone found the information in the article valuable and the cited article within their own writing. If the publication is recent, then it may not be cited yet.

In ERIC you can find Times Cited / Cited By on the results page or on the individual record pages.

Suggested Sources / Related Articles

When you find an article that you think will be good to use, you can take advantage of “suggested sources” to find similar articles.  There are different formulas for determining how an article is “related,” but it usually combines the same keywords and subject headings.

In ERIC, Suggested Sources on the right side of the screen in once you click on a record.

Search Strategies

Strategy Description Example
Boolean Operators

AND, OR, NOT are words used as connectors between your search terms. They are called Boolean Operators.


  • Results contain records with all search terms
  • Narrows the number and focus of results


  • Results contain records with any search terms
  • Broadens the number and focus of results
  • OR can be used with synonyms or related terms


  • Eliminates records containing the term after NOT
  • Narrows the number and focus the results


middle school AND multicultural education will give you results using of these together in the same record


middle school OR multicultural education will give you results that talk about either of these regardless if they appear in the same record

Synonyms example: multicultural education OR bilingual education


middle school AND multicultural education NOT bilingual education would be a way to get results about multicultural education that don't include bilingual education.


Truncation is a search technique that broadens your search to include various word endings. To truncate your search terms, replace the word ending with an asterisk *

child* will include records with child, children, childhood
Adjacency Adjacency is a way to tell the database that you want words to appear in a specific order. Some databases will do this automatically, but some will not. Simply add quotation marks around the search terms to force adjacency if needed. "classroom management" will give you records only where these words appear together
Subject Headings

Subject Headings are database-specific preferred terms. While you may use the same keywords in different databases, you may need to use different subject headings to get the mot precise search results.

Keywords use natural language that you come up with on your own. They have the following characteristics: (from MIT Libraries)

  • Natural language and words describing your topic
  • More flexible to search with; can combine together in multiple ways (AND, OR, NOT)
  • Database looks for keywords everywhere in the record
  • May yield too many or too few results
  • May yield many irrelevant results

Subject headings are structured vocabulary that scholars in the field use to talk about their topic. They provide the most precise search results. They have the following characteristics: (From MIT Libraries)

  • Pre-defined "controlled vocabulary" words used to describe the content of each item in the database
  • Less flexible to search by - need to know the exact term used
  • Database looks for subjects ONLY in the subject heading field
  • Use if too many results - can help focus on one aspect of a broader topic

When you search for articles, you can use any combination to find what you're looking for.

  • keyword + keyword 
  • subject heading + subject heading
  • keyword + subject heading

Since subject headings are created by someone other than you, you should look for them within the results of your keyword searches or a database thesaurus. Most databases will have a thesaurus. In ERIC, the thesaurus is on Advanced Search page above the search box.

An example when a subject heading might be useful is when you search multicultural education. This is includes thousands of records, some of which you may not be interested in. You may find it useful to look at the Thesaurus for a term that is more precise, like bilingual education.

It is also good to consider using subject headings when you need a comprehensive search. You may need to use more than one to describe the same concept as the language used may change over time. For example, multicultural education may not be the term used in research today, but it was for many years so you would need to include it to ensure that you are getting older records.