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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

Stop words are frequently occurring, insignificant words that appear in a database record, article or web page.

Common stop words include:

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

About stop words

Why should you care about stop words?

  • Many databases ignore common words from your search statement.  If included, the database returns far too many results.
  • So you know which words to exclude from your search statement.
  • To make sure they are included if they are a significant part of your search.
  • Many databases recognize common stop words when they are part of the controlled vocabulary of subject headings and descriptors.  Example: balance of payments
  • Stop words vary by database. Check the Help screens for a list.

How can you avoid using stop words in your search?

  • In some databases, you can use techniques to include stop words as part of the search.
  • Some databases use quotes around stop words.  Example: Title keyword= out "of" africa retrieves title: Out of Africa
  • Choose the most significant words that describe your topic and connect them together using Boolean operators or proximity operators.

  • Search for your terms in specific fields, such as author, title or subject/descriptor.