Advanced Searching in Science

Students in advanced science coursework at HBW have the opportunity to learn methods that can make their search for science resources more efficient and precise.  They have the opportunity to learn that…

  • Searching within a database that is curated by experts tends to yield the highest quality peer reviewed results in the shortest amount of time as compared to searching on the wide open internet. (That’s why students want to develop an awareness of their school’s subscription databases and the habit to turn towards them first.) Perhaps the only exception may be if one knows the precise title/author of the article (in which case searching the Internet may be speedier if the item is actually in the public domain–which is usually not the case.)
  • Opting for “advanced search” in a search engine offers the benefit of using Boolean Operators and filters to specify search results.  Students are often enabled to search within a specific field of the digital records of sources contained within a database.
  • Searches can employ the Boolean Operators AND and NOT to narrow results.  They can can employ the Boolean Operator OR to broaden their search.
  • Some search engines enable the use of truncation to broaden search results. Truncating your term involves replacing the last couple letters with an asterisk (*) in order to include variations of words. For example:  econom* yields economy, economies, economic, and economical.
  • Some search engines respond to the use of parentheses to “nest” terms as needed algorithmically.
    Example 1: “mating rituals” AND (dragonfly OR damselfly)
    Example 2:
    “mating rituals” AND ((dragonfly OR damselfly) OR (“flyus dragonus” OR “flyus femilius”))
  • Searches that employ key words (such as the dependent variable that is under study) AND the general subject of study (such as Chemistry or Physics) can narrow results.  For example:    Chemistry AND pH
  • in a search query, one can put phrases “in quotation marks” in order to search for that exact wording.  However, searching by use of “natural language” (wording it as a long question, for example) typically results in failure.
  • Searching the ABSTRACT or TITLE field of an item’s digital record can specify results.
  • Searching within specifically recommended scholarly databases (such as GALE’s Academic One File or J-Stor) or Google Scholar or can quickly yield peer-reviewed resources.
  • By contrast, a search on the wide open internet may yield less reliable (possibly disreputable or bogus) articles of low-quality such as “Vanity Press.”  Such articles may have been rejected as “bad science” when they were submitted for publication at reputable journals.
  • if one knows the author of seminal research related to one’s topic of scientific inquiry, one can search for that author in the REFERENCES or LITERATURE REVIEW to locate potentially relevant research.
  • it is important to differentiate the characteristics of primary vs. secondary vs. tertiary sources in order to recognize the value each might add to ones research.
  • a researcher has many strategies to employ in searching and should not forget that they can ask a school’s librarian for expert assistance.  She can also Google-search for contact details in order to e-mail a scientist or reporter or journal editor or publisher to obtain source information.
  • E-mailing the author of a journal article is often a successful means of obtaining a pdf-copy of their research.  The directory of the university often provides contact information of the researchers who work their.  Alternatively, the librarian at the university can track down that researcher’s contact information.  Almost all university libraries have “ask the librarian” services to click open at their library’s web sites.
  • like many libraries, HBW’s library enjoys inter-library loan services that enables it to obtain (at no financial cost to the student) copyrighted materials that its own subscription databases may not contain.  HBW’s librarian connects with Virginia Tech’s library to facilitate that transaction.
  • applying the species name (for example, “homo sapien” instead of “man”) and scientific terminology will properly enhance search findings or find specifically primary source (original research) articles
  • using advanced search can enable the student to find “current” science rather than outdated science.  To be considered “current,” consider narrowing the publication date to the past 3 years… 5 at most.  (Extend the years if searching up for seminal research.)
  • DOI stands for Digital Object Identifier.  (Find a helpful explanation with images halfway down this page in a mini-lesson.) It is usually about 15 characters long and looks a little like a URL… often printed at the footer of the first page of a journal article.  A DOI is a new coding method for objects such as journal articles (THAT MAY OR MAY NOT BE ELECTRONIC.) That code enables a researcher to trace such a source to locations from which a researcher can retrieve it (such as databases or shelves of university libraries.)  APA style of citation requires including the source’s DOI (if it has one.) Thus, NoodleTools gathers DOIs for help in constructing bibliographies.  Not all publishers assign their sources DOIs (because obtaining a DOI requires payment of a fee to  It is rare to find a DOI for materials outside of scientific research, or on objects published before 2010.  (Note: critics have argued that term they should have invented for this code is digital OBJECT LOCATOR.  Can you explain why?) How does the DOI find the object?  Paste it into the search engine at and that search engine will tell you the location where the object can be found– the name of a database or web site or university library, for example.  Then you can hunt it down.  In fact, some publications present the DOI with the prefix so that it is automatically linked into use of the search engine.
  • A growing number of researchers are joining the “Open Access Movement.”  They are making their studies freely available on the Internet at at the same moment that they submit them to a journal for possible publication. Doing so makes their scientific studies immediately accessible to other scientists without having to wait for the peer review process to be completed. Using the  Google Scholar search engine can surface such Open Access articles and will include the name of the publication that eventually peer-reviewed and published it, too.
  • Some database curators are selecting the very best of Open Access articles and putting their links into databases.