Answered By: APUS Librarians
Last Updated: Jul 14, 2023     Views: 5162

The APUS library's databases are more powerful than search engines like Google.  They can sort by relevance or date.  They can be limited to full text or scholarly articles only.  And they search the contents of articles and books that are not available freely to the general public.

But, library databases work a bit differently from most search engines, and they take some practice to master.   

Here are some of the most common reasons that your database search didn't bring you the results you expected:

  • Avoid searching for long phrases or full citations. Long phrases or sentences contain so many words that the database may struggle to prioritize your results.  Instead, type just a few words into the search box -- the main concepts from your research topic.
  • Choose keywords wisely. Databases look for the exact words and phrases you type in, so you'll want to be sure you're using widely-accepted terms to describe your topic. Learn how to pick the best keywords. 
  • Check your spelling!  Again, databases search for exactly what you type.
  • Leave out punctuation. If you're searching for a title or quotation, for example, remove any punctuation for best results. It may seem strange, but too many periods, commas, colons, etc. can confuse the database.
  • When you're searching for books, you may need to use broader keywords.  Books tend to be written on broad subjects, though they may include chapters on specific topics.  Once you've found a book on a broader version of your topic, search inside it for information about your more specific topic.
  • When you're searching for articles, you may need to use narrower keywords (articles typically cover narrow topics).
  • Choose the right databaseThe library's "everything" search box is a good place to start, but if you have a very specific topic, you might need to search a subject database.  Find recommended databases on the library research strategies guides or subject pages.
  • Ask a librarian for help.  Research strategy is what we know best, and helping students is the best part of our jobs.

Are you having technical problems (errors, etc.) in the library?  Click here for troubleshooting tips.

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