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Counseling & Crisis Intervention

Basic Search Tips

Search EffectivelyUnlike Google, library databases can't understand an entire sentence. You will need to break your topic down into the most important ideas - the KEYWORDS.

Example Topic: 

  • What impact has COVID-19 had on mental health?


  • COVID-19
  • mental health

What impact has COVID-19 had on mental health? The keywords highlighted are: COVID-19 and mental health

Remember! When searching databases, you only need to include the most essential components.

Brainstorm: Person writing on colored sticky notesMost words have synonyms that mean the same, or very similar, things. For each keyword in your topic, try to come up with at least one synonym or another very similar keyword. Not all keywords will have synonyms, but many do!

Example 1: 

Keyword: mental health

Possible synonyms: emotional health, mental well-being, stress, depression, anxiety

Example 2:

Keyword: pandemic

Possible synonyms: COVID, COVID-19, coronavirus, quarantine

Keep an Eye Out!

Sometimes scholars use terms that you might not be familiar with, or which might mean something very specific within the discipline. While searching, look for unfamiliar terms or words that show up a lot. Try searching for those and see if you find more relevant sources.

Focus: Person holding a magnifying lensMost library databases have search tools built in.

Try some of these:

  • Subject: 
    Think of subjects as official hashtags. Use them to find sources about that subject.
  • Date Range: 
    Limit your search to sources published between specific years.
  • Peer Reviewed: 
    Limit your search to scholarly journal articles.
  • Full Text: 
    Make sure all of the results are available to read in full.

Look on the left and right of your search results, or for an "advanced search" page to find these tools - and more!

Advanced Search Tips

Venn Diagram: mental health AND pandemic


Use the operator AND to find only sources that mention your keywords:

  • COVID-19 AND mental health

Add Keywords

Add more keywords in order to focus the results even more:

  • COVID-19 AND mental health AND children

Venn Diagram: pandemic OR COVIDUse OR

Use the OR operator to expand your search with additional keywords:

  • COVID OR pandemic
  • COVID OR coronavirus OR pandemic

This will find sources that include any of the words, so you'll see more results than by searching for just one keyword.

Combine OR and AND

A great way to use OR, is to combine it with AND. So, to expand your search results, you could try this:

  • depression AND (COVID OR coronavirus

When you do this, put parentheses around the keywords connected with OR. Now you will have a list of results that all mention depression, and either COVID or coronavirus.

Choices IconIf your search results are not what you expect, there are several options you can try.

Use Quotation Marks

If your results don't seem to match up with your keywords, try putting quote marks around exact phrases. This will bring back results that only use that exact phrase.

"mental health" AND COVID

Check Your Spelling

It's always a good idea to make sure that your search terms are spelled correctly. You may also need to try using a different form of a word

Ask a Librarian!

Sometimes you just need to ask for help. Some research topics are more tricky than others and getting help from a librarian can save you a lot of time.