Before you start entering any search terms, spend a few minutes trying to think of as many relevant terms and combinations of terms as you can. This will help you to avoid getting stuck in a rut with the first terms that come to mind.
If you need help in coming up with terms, you may want to try the "Thesaurus" or "Subject Headings" features in the database you've chosen.
Check out the "Help" or "Search Tips" to learn some of the search features specific to that database. Most databases provide similar features, but the methods may vary. Some common tricks:
truncation = To use truncation, enter the root of a search term and replace the ending with an * (asterisk). For example, type comput* to find the words computes, computer,computing or computational.
searching a phrase = Typically, when a phrase is enclosed by double quotations marks, the exact phrase is searched. For example, "employee retention" searches for the two words as a phrase.
Boolean terms (AND, OR, NOT) = Use these terms to connect your keywords. They work best in all capital letters:
AND combines search terms so that each search result contains all of the terms. For example, travel AND Europe finds articles that contain both travel and Europe.
OR combines search terms so that each search result contains at least one of the terms. For example, college OR university finds results that contain either college or university.
NOT excludes terms so that each search result does not contain any of the terms that follow it. For example, television NOT cable finds results that contain television but not cable.
Putting it all together: You can combine these Boolean terms with truncation and phrase searching to create powerful search statements. For example, if you are interested in what motivates students in higher education, you might try a search that looks like: (college* OR universit* OR "higher education") AND (student* OR undergraduate* OR "graduate student*") AND motivat*
Try the databases' Advanced Search feature, which usually gives you the ability to search multiple fields (author, title, keyword, subject, etc) with one search and may offer additional ways to expand or limit your search.
If your first search strategy does not work, try another approach. Remember that you can also get help from the library. Check out the links below.