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Database Search Tips

This helpful guide, adopted with permission from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, highlights common search techniques.

What to Look for

Records in library databases are comprised of fields containing specific pieces of bibliographic information. Common fields include:

  • Author
  • Title
  • Journal title
  • Abstract
  • Publisher
  • Date/year of publication
  • Subject/descriptor

How Database Fields Improve Your Search

  • Limiting your search to specific database fields can yield more precise results.
  • For instance, if you are looking for books by Adam Smith instead of about him, it is more efficient to limit your search to the author field.
  • To find various fields within a database, look for drop down boxes or menus to select the field you want to search.
  • Then combine words and fields together with Boolean or proximity operators, depending on how precise you want to be.


Screenshot showing the advanced search feature in ProQuest with boolean operator field and further filters.


  • If you do not choose a specific field, the database usually reverts to a keyword search, where your words will be searched throughout the record.
  • If your keyword search retrieves too many records (more than 50), try narrowing your search to retrieve a more manageable result.
  • Information overload - too many results - can be a worse situation than finding only 10 very relevant results.

If you have any questions regarding database fields, please contact Ask a Librarian.