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Search Skills

Guides to search skills and using library research resources

Using advanced search

What is advanced search?

Most places you search online, from Google to the Library to databases, will have both basic and advanced search options. Usually a basic search will just be a standard search box, with few options available. Advanced search usually allows you to add multiple search fields, specify where to search, allow different limiting options and more. 

Why use advanced search?

Using advanced search can really help you to refine your search and get better, more relevant results. It will help you to combine your keywords in an effective way and will offer various options for limiting or expanding your search.

Making the most of advanced search features

The exact features available in advanced search will vary from database to database, but there are usually a few key elements.

Field searching

Most advanced searches allow you to limit your search to a particular field. These can include but are not limited to:

  • Full text
  • Topic 
  • Title
  • Abstract

If you are finding you have a large number of results, or some of your results are not relevant to your topic, try narrowing it down by restricting one or more of your keywords to a particular field, such as title or abstract. 

Boolean

Usually you can use advanced search to combine your search terms with Boolean operators, usually from a drop-down menu. 

Below is an example of a drop-down menu from JSTOR, with options to use Boolean operators or proximity searching: 

Drop-down menu with options AND, OR, NOT, NEAR 5, NEAR 10, NEAR 25

Remember, you can still also type in these operators within the search boxes. 

The easiest way to organise your search is by keeping one topic or concept per line, combining with AND (or NOT) and keeping your synonyms and alternatives together with OR. 

For example, in this search, each line is one concept (including synonyms), with the lines combined with AND and NOT from the drop-down menu:

Advanced Search in JSTOR for "social media" OR Twitter OR Facebook AND "fake news" AND elections NOT "United States" OR USA OR America*

Limiting options 

There will also be options within advanced search for limiting your results, for example by date, document type, language and so on. Again this will vary between databases, with some having many options and others relatively few.