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Library 101

Using the library at FNU

Starting Your Search

When you sit down at a computer, it is tempting to start typing right away.  No one likes a blank screen or a blank search box in this case.  But taking a few minutes to think about your search can pay off in the long run.  First, think of the concepts that you want to search. Suppose you are interested in finding articles on the effects of breastfeeding premature infants.  Searching for “effects of breastfeeding on premature infants” is not likely to find much.  That is because most databases default to phrase searching, meaning that they will look for that exact phrase.  A better strategy would be to break this phrase down into concepts.  The first concept is breastfeeding.  Another concept is premature infants.  What about effects?  Words like effects or problems are not good search terms because they are so ubiquitous.  Instead think about what some of the effects might be.  If you do not know, you can stick with just two concepts.

Next, you want to combine your concepts using Boolean operators. Boolean refers to a system of logic developed by mathematician George Boole.  It is commonly used in algebra.  There are three commands or operators used in this logic.  The operators tell the database how you want to combine your terms.

AND will include both terms OR will include either term NOT will exclude terms


So your search strategy might be “breastfeeding AND (premature infants OR preterm infants).”  Notice the parentheses.  Just like in algebra, they denote what action to perform first.  So your search strategy would retrieve articles that have either “premature infants” or “preterm infants,” but will all have “breastfeeding.”

Choosing a Database

Next, you will want to determine where to search.  Below is a list of selected databases that the FNU Library has available:

Subject Headings

Most databases use subject headings, or a thesaurus, for indexing and specialized searching.  Subject headings are a list of preferred terms that a cataloger or indexer must assign to the record of a work.  These indicate the content of the work in a catalog or database (Reitz, 2007). This process standardizes the terminology that searchers will use.  For example, if the subject heading for teenagers is adolescents then an article titled “Dealing with your teenager” will have the subject heading of adolescents, even though that term is not used in the article.  Subject headings can also be used as an access point, meaning that you can use them to search.

For an example of subject headings, just look in a phone book.  If you use the yellow pages to find a doctor, under the entry for “doctor” it will say “See: physician.”  The entry directs you to the preferred term for the concept.  Sometimes the term that most everyone uses is not actually what the database uses.


A group of subject headings is sometimes referred to as a thesaurus.  In MEDLINE, subject headings are called MeSH Terms (MeSH=Medical Subject Headings).  In CINAHL, subject headings are called CINAHL Headings.

To find an appropriate subject heading in an EBSCOhost database, look at the blue bar at the top of the screen.  The screenshot below shows the link for the MeSH Terms in MEDLINE.

If you are searching more than one database, the link will say "Subjects" but when you hover over the link you can choose which group of subject headings you'd like to use. Remember that subject headings are specific to each database.

Subject Headings Video

View the video below for more specific instructions on searching with subject headings in Ebsco's Medline, including explanations of preferred terms and scope notes. Subject headings are the preferred terms for any given concept in a database and a scope note defines the subject heading's intended use or "scope" in the database.



Reitz, J.M. (2007). ODLIS – Online dictionary for library and information science