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Decode Search Strings

Search... Magic?

Did you click on a search string on your course's library readings page that looked like this:

"community health" AND "indigenous people"

and it turned into this on the database page:

TI,SU("community health") AND "indigenous people" AND pd(20150827-20200827) AND stype("Dissertations & Theses") ?

We can explain! This guide will give you a crash course on understanding what looks like "code" in a search string.

What are search strings?

Search strings connect all your topic keywords into something the library's databases can understand. Search strings look different than a Google search because the library databases don't use natural language like Google. That means you can't type in your topic the same way as you would if you were speaking it or writing it in a sentence. Instead, you can use Boolean operators and field codes to fine-tune the search string.

Understanding Field Codes

  • Where will I see them? Field codes, sometimes called limiters or filters, are embedded within the original search string on your course's library readings page. You also might see them when you ask for librarian assistance with a search.
  • Why do I need them? Field codes focus the search results, making them more relevant.
  • What do they do? Field codes tell the database to only look for the specified keywords in certain places. For example, you can tell it to only find articles with the word community in the title (rather than anywhere in the article). This will give you more focused search results.
  • How do I use them? Field codes are different for each database and can be found in the drop-down menus on the database's Advanced Search page. When a field code is selected, it is added to the search string. Here are some common field codes you'll see in an advanced search string:

Understanding Boolean Searches

Guess what? We already have a guide for understanding Boolean searches! Check out the Combining Keywords to Create a Search section on the Drafting Your Search page of our Develop a Search Strategy guide. Boolean searches use connector words (called operators) like and, or, and not to refine your search. They might look a little strange at first, but it's actually a very logical way of searching.

Library Hacks

Use the Advanced Search option. Typing field codes into your search string manually can be a little tricky because the spacing, commas, and capitalization have to be exactly right, or the database won't interpret your search string correctly. But don't worry; there's an easy way around this problem! Just go to the database's Advanced Search page and use the drop-down menus to select field codes for each keyword. The choices will be different on each database.

Use keywords in other databases. You might see search strings on your course's library readings page. We link the searches to specific databases, but you can reuse the same keywords in other databases of your choice. Just go to another database's Advanced Search page and copy and paste the keywords we've provided into the search fields. Select field codes from the drop-down menus to fine-tune your search.

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