BIOL 4278: Seminar in Biology: Search Strategy


Search Strategy & Tips

  1. State your topic or research question in your own words.
  2. Identify the most important keywords (usually the nouns) or short, commonly used phrases.
  3. Think of variations (singular, plural) and synonyms for your terms.
  4. Create an initial search statement using connectors or logical operators (especially AND, OR) and, if appropriate, wildcards.
  5. Try it out in one or more databases and/or Library Catalog.
  6. Look for other good keywords and subject terms in search results.
  7. Try revised searches until you're satisfied with the results.
  8. Depending on the volume of results, consider narrowing or broadening your topic.
  9. If you're having difficulties, contact us.

Find more (broaden your results) with OR and wildcards:
   yeast or fungi     (finds either term)
   genom*     (finds genome, genomes, genomic, etc.)

Find less (narrow your results) with AND:
   statin* and neoplasm*    (finds both terms)

Find less with NOT:
   fern not flora     (excludes records that mention flora)

Sample search statement:
frog* and (malform* or deform*)

Limiters can help to improve the relevance and focus of results:

  • Narrow results with standard  limiters (peer-reviewed, date; document type; language; etc.)
  • Some databases allows quotation marks for an "exact phrase"
  • In databases for a specific subject discipline, look for specialized limiters (such as role of organism in Biological Abstracts)
  • Try restricting some terms to the title or abstract field
  • Try restricting some terms to the subject or descriptors field. Subject terms can vary from database to database, but using them usually improves relevance so look for them in results displays and detailed records. Some databases include a subject terms thesaurus.


  • Look for different, relevant keywords or subject terms to try
  • Simplify your search by removing less critical search terms or limiters
  • Expand some terms to the all text or full text field, if provided
  • Try a different database or OneSearch

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Sample Searches BIOL 4278

  • Subject terms, while helpful for focusing results, sometimes are not assigned until after the initial posting of a record. You also may want to try using subject terms as simple keywords (i.e., without requiring them to appear in the subjects field).
  • Subject terms can vary from one database to another.
  • Don't limit to full text when you're exploring a topic in depth. You'll miss full text that's available via Find It @ UHCL.

Sample searches with varying limiters from Biological Abstracts and from Biological and Agricultural Index Plus

  • Results in Web of Science can be sorted by times cited (highest to lowest)

Web of Science topic search for amphibian* with a wildcard and malform* or deform* with wildcards

Relatively simple searches usually work well. To include limiters such as format, language, etc., use Advanced Search.

Shows keyword search for frog with a wildcard and malform or abnormal with wildcards

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