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Information Skills

Videos and online tutorials to support and develop information skills.

Advanced Search Strategies

A basic search will work well when searching for broad topics or if you are just looking for books and ebooks. However, consider using the Advanced Search option, especially when looking for information which focuses on a specific aspect of a topic, or while searching for journal articles.

This tutorial will help you get the best out of the library’s online databases. Learn to use advanced search tools to build a search strategy, and how to adjust and refine a search to retrieve more relevant results.

Advanced Search Tools

After opening MultiSearch or one of the library's databases, you'll usually be directed to a basic search box. However, selecting a link to the Advanced Search option will provide the following attributes with which to tailor and refine your search.

The search boxes provide options to construct a more focused search and adjust it more easily.

Use one box for each of the main topic areas you are looking for. In the example below, the search topics are grief and relationships and interventions. Use three boxes, one for each topic and include synonyms for each topic in that box. To include more topics, most databases allow for the addition of search boxes.

Between each search box, choose the appropriate Boolean operator to connect search terms.

In the search below, the AND operator is selected in the drop-down menus and OR operators are typed in the search boxes between synonyms. Refine the search string further by adding wildcards, truncation and phrases. For example, truncate bereavement and counselling and therapy by adding an asterisk to the word as displayed below. 

Use the ‘Select a field’ drop down menus to tell the database where to look for search terms.

Adjust these fields if the search results are too limited. Also try mixing and matching across the search boxes as some fields will work better with different keywords. Below is a brief definition of some of the common fields:

  • Select a Field or Any Field - Will look through all sections of item records for keywords. This will deliver a larger, more comprehensive set of results.
  • All Text - Will look through the entire full-text of the items. This will deliver the largest set of results but they may not always be the most relevant.
  • Author - Use when you want to search for a particular author or theorist. Begin by just using the author's surname.
  • Title - Will just search through the titles of the items in the database. This will bring back a much smaller and relevant set of results.
  • Subject terms - Will look through the subject tags attached to each record. Again, this will retrieve a smaller more relevant list of results.
  • Abstract - When looking for journal articles, limiting to an abstract search will often result in a more relevant, yet comprehensive search. The abstract is the summary found at the beginning of a research article.


After selecting the search button and retrieving a results list, a Refine Results menu will appear usually down the left or right hand side of the page. This menu has built in facets with which to easily refine the results and deliver a more relevant list. A few ways of limiting the search include:

  • Full-text: Ticking the full-text option filters a search to resources subscribed to by the library and so, you will have immediate access. However, you may choose to expand the number of results by unticking this option (you may then need to look for non-subscription items elsewhere or request via the interlibrary loan service). 
  • Peer Review: If unsure about how to access only scholarly material, limit the results to just peer reviewed studies.
  • Date: To look at recent research and publications, limit by date from the Publication Date field.
  • Facets: Make use of the limiting facets produced by the database. These are based on the metadata from a results list. Subject or Thesaurus terms are often a good place to start in order to make results a little more relevant but there is often a variety of other options to choose from such as methodology, gender, age, geography, publication type and so on.

Advanced Searching Activity

1. Introduction

Click HERE to open a new page containing  live access to some of the EbscoHOST journal databases.

Log in to the database using your ACAP username and password. Then, click the continue button and you will be directed to an Advanced Search screen.

Click the numbered buttons at the top of this box to navigate your way through this practice task. Complete all tasks in order from 1 - 7.

2. The Assessment Task

You'll now be able to find journal articles directly from this database. Let's look at finding articles for the following assessment task:

Discuss the prevalence and impact of stigma and discrimination on people who have mental health conditions and disorders. Research and evaluate how stigma and discrimination is being addressed within Australia to protect the rights of mental health consumers.

The key concepts for this task include:

  • Concept 1: Stigma and discrimination
  • Concept 2: Mental health disorders
  • Concept 3: Australia, Australian consumers

3. Entering Keywords into Search Boxes

Begin by creating an advanced search string using Boolean operators, wildcards, truncation and phrases. You must copy the keywords exactly as written below. Hint: right click on your mouse to copy and paste.

  • In the 1st box, add the following keywords for concept 1: stigma* OR discrim* OR prejudice OR bias OR attitude
  • In the 2nd box, add the following synonyms and phrases for concept 2: "mental health" OR "mental illness" OR schizophren* OR depress*
  • In the 3rd box, add search terms for concept 3: Australia* OR consumer OR patient OR policy
  • Leave the AND operators as they are.

You should have retrieved over 60,000 results!

4. Refine Results: Select Fields

We've retrieved a lot of results so let's refine the search by telling the database where to search for keywords using the Select Field menus.

  • Next to the 1st box change Select a Field to a TI Title search.
  • At the 2nd box change Select a Field to SU Subject Terms.
  • And at the the 3rd box change the drop down menu to an AB Abstract search.

Hit Search again and you will now have reduced the number of results to just around 3000. You will notice the number of results and their relevancy to your search are greatly affected by the fields you choose.

5. Refine Results: The Menu

This is a much more digestible set of results but we can refine it further and make the results even more relevant by using the Refine Results menu at the left of the search screen (or scroll down on small devices). 

Under the Limit To menu we could limit to just peer reviewed publications or we could expand to include non-full text. However, let's just limit by date to retrieve more current results. Scroll down to change the Publication Date field to bring back articles from 2010 onwards.

This action should have almost halved the results to about 2000 articles. We could continue to limit the search using the Source Types and facets further below. However, let's stop here and move to step 6.

6. Refine Results: Adjust the Search

Finally, you may need to to go back to your search boxes and add or remove keywords, change the Select Field options or fine-tune the Refine Results menu.

In this case, let's just focus on Australian consumers. So, change the keywords in the 3rd box to the one keyword: Australia*

Once you have removed consumer AND patient as keywords from the search you will bring back an even more relevant and digestible set of about 300 results.

You will begin to discover more terms, phrases or key authors as you search and as you begin to read through the material you have found. These can then be used to adjust your search to find even more relevant results.

7. Examining the Results

Use the REVIEW criteria from section 6. Evaluating Information to test whether the items you've found are appropriate for use in academic assignments.

Once you do have a good set of results, scroll through them and open any items that look relevant to this assessment task. Try downloading the PDF of an article to your desktop and using the Cite tool to collect information about how to add the article to your reference list.

If you need some help doing this, take a look at the videos on the library's How to Find eResources page.

Congratulations! You have now completed an Advanced Search using EbscoHOST databases.