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Syracuse University Libraries

Counseling and Human Services: Database Search Strategies

Keyword Searches with Truncation and Phrase Searching

Use keywords, not phrases or sentences.  Put keywords in separate search boxes in the databases (so that the word AND is between the keywords).

Databases sometimes try to match the exact phrase you type with phrases in the results, so you get fewer results with longer phrases.  Short, commonly used phrases, like “single parent” or “drug abuse” are okay because those phrases are likely to be used in many of the results.  Examples:


Using AND

In many databases, it is important to use the word AND between your keywords.  Many databases will already have AND for you on the Advanced Search screen.

To find:


mental illness in prisons "mental illness" AND prisons

effects of permanency planning on adoption outcomes

"permanency planning" AND outcomes

assessment of child welfare in New York

assessment AND "child welfare" AND "New York"


Screen shot showing how to enter the mental illness in prisons topic into a database.  It does not matter in what order you put the terms.

mental illness entered in first edit box, select a field in combo box, and in combo box, prisons entered in edit box

Using OR/ similar terms

To find:

You could expand your results by adding similar terms such as :

mental illness in prisons ("mental illness" OR "mental disorders") AND (prisons OR jails OR "detention centers")

effects of permanency planning on adoption outcomes

"permanency planning" AND (outcomes OR evaluation OR assessment)


Examples of truncation:

Use To find
assess* assess, assesses, assessment, assessments, assessing
evaluat* evaluate, evaluation, evaluated, etc.
effect* effect, effective, effectiveness, etc.
effic* efficacy, efficacious, efficaciously, efficaciousness, etc.
outcome* outcome, outcomes, etc.
prison* prison, prisons, prisoner, prisoners, etc.
program* program, programs, programming, etc.

Some databases use a ? or other symbol instead of * for truncation. Check the help screen, or just try a search to see if a symbol works. Psycinfo, Social Services Abstracts, Sociological Abstracts, and Social Work Abstracts use *.

Phrase searching is useful in some databases when you want to find an exact phrase.

A search for: Would find:
"family violence" citations that include the exact phrase family violence
family violence citations that only include the word family and citations that only include the word violence
"detention center" citations that include the exact phrase detention center
detention center citations that only include the word detention and citations that only include the word center

Screen shot showing combination of the search strategies above:

"mental illness*" OR "mental disorder*" in first edit box, prison* OR "detention center*" OR jail* in next edit box