Advanced Library Techniques

To make the best use of your time while conducting research for your literature review, students must know how to utilize advanced library techniques. We will go over a number of these here:

It should be noted that the suggestions here are generalized. Each university, college, database, and program will have different resources for you. Each may look a little different or have slightly different titling of those resources. The below guide will help you navigate all of it and make the most of your library searches.

Keyword Development

Any good search begins with a good set of keywords. However, developing keywords is not a one-time task. You might have your initial topic and some general subtopics that are related to it. However, the terms in your mind may not be the same others use to talk about the same topic. As you find articles, you should make note of how scholars talk about topics. Some may use different terms than others. For instance, where one scholar writes about adolescents, another might write about teens or teenagers. Make sure you are thinking broadly about terminology, even as you try to narrow down your topic. 

Another good way to develop your keywords for searching is to make note of the Keywords listed on the articles. In some cases, these are right on the article itself, usually under the abstract, in the print and the electronic version. In other cases, keywords can be found in the bibliographic record tab for the article in the database. This is usually the first thing you open when you look at an article. It includes the abstract, information about the article (author, publication info, etc), as well as a list of “Subject” or “Publication Subject” or “Keywords” right on the screen. These have been tagged by librarians or journal editors for this article. These terms might be in line with your topic, but did not come to mind as you were brainstorming. Make use of the work of experts!

Database Tools

Every database will have a number of tools to help you search. These include the tools available when you first open the database, as well as those when you are viewing an article. 

Search Filters

Search filters are pretty basic across all databases. They may look a little different in each database, but the functions are essentially the same. These include, but are not limited to:

For searches on psychology-related topics, you will want to make use of source types, publication date, document types, and (especially when you have a lot of results initially) subject. You will likely want to search for peer-reviewed sources within 10 years, but this depends on your topic. If you are looking at a historical change in the field, using the publication date filter will require searching within a historical period (such as 1950-1970) rather than searching through only current literature. 

Within an Article (Snowballing)

The rule within databases is that if it is clickable, it is clickable for a reason. Doing so will bring you to items likely related to the one you are looking at. Think of this as useful rabbit hole diving or Six Degrees of Separation – you can see how ideas, authors, topics are related to one another. 

Once you are looking at an article within a database, you will likely be able to click on:

You can always use the “open in a new tab” feature to not lose the initial article you were viewing. 

Within an Article (Additional Tools)

Citation Tools:

Typically at the top or on the bottom, there will be a citation tool. It may be labeled “Cite” or “Citation” or simply have a quotation marks symbol. Click on it to get the full citation for that article (in multiple citation style formats). You can copy and paste the full citation into a document to keep a running list of likely useful articles. You can also export the citation. 

Citation Export:

Most databases have the option to export the citation to software such as: RefWorks, EndNote, Citavi, NoodleTools, EasyBib, and more. It is recommended that you keep a running citation list, even for item you are not sure you will use. Doing so now will save you time later. 

Email / Print / Save Tools:

Every database will let you email, print, or save the article. It is highly recommended that when you save articles, you do so with a standard document title. For instance, use the first authors last name and some words from the title: Smith-Childhood-Cultural-School.pdf. This will help you organize your sources down the line when you have many more to sift through. 

Search Within:

Not sure if the article you are looking at fits? Hit CTRL F and a search bar will come up on the screen. Type in a keyword that you think would be a clear indication that this article is useful. If it comes up often, it likely is. If not, it may not be a great fit (at least not initially). 

Related Items:

On (usually) the right hand side when you are looking at an article, there will be a listing of “related items.” These may be useful next steps for you to consider in your search. You will likely be able to see the article title, author, year, and journal. These lists depend on your keywords, the subject and topic of the article you are looking at, and some other algorithms. 

Search Tools

Search tools will drastically increase your likelihood of conducting meaningful searches of databases that will yield results specific to your topic. These tools tell the database, “Do this THIS way.” Note that while many databases use the same search tool keystrokes, some do have their own. You can find more about these by using the Help page in any database. 

Putting Terms in Quotation Marks “  ”

Putting any phrase in quotation marks will tell the database to search those words as if it was one thing. For example:

Cognitive behavioral therapy  = will yield results with any of these three words in any order (or no where near one another)

“cognitive behavioral therapy” = will yield results with these three words, in this order, in the article. 

Albert Ellis = will yield results with Albert and Ellis (Ellis Island, Albert Einstein, Little Albert, etc).

“Albert Ellis” = will yield articles with Albert Ellis mentioned. 


BOOLEAN will allow you to search for specific terms together with other terms, as well as limit certain terms from your results. There are three BOOLEAN operators. They must be capitalized in order for the database to understand what you are asking it to do. The operators are: 


These are great initial tools to use. Some examples are below.

childhood AND trauma NOT adolescence

This will find results that include childhood and trauma, but do not include adolescence. 

“anger management” NOT trauma

This will find results that include anger management (as one term) but does not include trauma.

“cognitive behavioral therapy” OR CBT NOT psychodynamic

This will yield results that all include CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy but none that include anything that mentions psychodynamic. Note that CBT does not have to be capitalized for the search and it does not matter if you do capitalize it.

teen* OR adolescen* AND depression

This will yield articles with any of these: teen, teenagers, teenage, adolescents, adolescent, adolescence. And all will have the term depression (See truncation listing below for more on using *)

“cognitive behavioral therapy” OR psychodynamic AND “childhood trauma”

This will yield results that include cognitive behavioral therapy and childhood trauma, as well as psychodynamic and childhood trauma, and some with all three. If you wanted to eliminate one, change the order to: “cognitive behavioral therapy” AND “childhood trauma” NOT psychodynamic (this will eliminate psychodynamic)

“parenting style” AND “parent training” AND cognition

This will yield articles with all three of these terms. Note all three of these terms must be included in the articles. If you think “parenting style” and “parent training” might not both be used to refer to this, then use OR between the terms

One note of caution with using BOOLEAN is that authors may include in the introduction of their article something about other related topics. For instance, if the author says, “In this study we purposely focus on childhood and not adolescence” then using the BOOLEAN operator “childhood NOT adolescence” has limited your search too much. So start with a broad search, then use the search within features of the databases after you get a sense of how scholars talk about your topic.


Truncation is a tool used to essentially tell the database, “Search for every root of this word.” It will help you quickly find articles that include iterations of words with all of their prefix and suffixes. Some examples are below. The first word with the * is the word you would type into the search. The list that follows are what the database will then search for 


children, child, child’s, childs, childrens


trauma, traumatic, traumatizing, traumatization


masculinity, masculine

Wild Card

Wild card is a tool that lets you search multiple versions of the same word at once. This is useful for words that are spelled differently in different parts of the world. A wild card search is done simply by putting a ? in place of any letter. The database will search for every letter in the alphabet in that ? place. Examples:

organi?e = organize, organize, organiXe

colo?r = color, colour

recogni?e = recognize, recognise

dialog? = dialog, dialogue 


A proximity search will allow you to search for one term within a certain number of words to another term. This is useful if you are looking for articles on a certain subject, but do not want articles that do not focus on a particular piece of that subject. To tell the database to search for one term near another, you simply use n and then the number of words away maximum you want the words to be. For example:

“body dysmorphia” n4 child*   = this will find body dysmorphia (as one term) within 4 words of any word with the root word child. Note that we used * after child to search for child, children, children’s, and all other iterations of the word.

anger n5 anxiety = this will find anger and anxiety within 5 words of one another in articles. It will not find any articles where these words are more than 5 words apart more than once. 

Note, the words do not always need to be that close, but they need to be at least once to come up in the search results. The more often they are close to one another, the more likely they are to be in the list of “relevant” articles filtered first in your results. 

Google Scholar is a powerful tool for researchers. This subset of Google is, in theory, only search for academic sources. You can search by keyword and then filter by date. You can search within your initial results. You can see how many other works have cited a source. You can see a “related articles” list. There is also a citation tool. You can create an alert notification that will let you know if any new sources are published and available. As with any internet search, be sure to double-check your source. Not all of the items that are in Google Scholar are peer-reviewed. You may not have access to the full article through Google Scholar – you may have to take the citation information and find the article in your institution’s database or through interlibrary loan. 


Many colleges and universities now utilize what is called OneSearch. It is a tool on the library webpage that allows you to search (most of) the entire collection the institution has access to. This usually includes hardcopy books and journals, ebooks, online journals, and more. You will search using a basic search bar (or the advanced search options) and will have the option to filter your results, much like in a database (as described above). Once you find an item that looks useful, clicking on it will bring you to the source within the database or library catalog. 

This is great at the initial stages of your search. However, it is recommended that as you move along, you search within the databases specific to your discipline. The search tools and connections made within the individual databases are developed by specialists in the discipline. 

University/College Commons

Your institution will likely have either a physical or electronic holding of theses and dissertations published by students. It may also have a repository of faculty publications. This is a great resource for you to see what else has been researched at your institution, but also to find committee members and other researchers with similar interests. 

Original Sources of Statistical Data 

If you are looking for statistics on things like crime, health, population, housing, education, and the like – you want to go to original sources. These are likely to be available from government sources or from large research institutions. For instance, you may want to start with or ask a research librarian for assistance. 

Finding Your Academic/Research Librarian 

We cannot stress enough that making use of your institution’s research librarians is a good use of your time. They can help you get acquainted with the resources available, assist with interlibrary loan, point you to useful databases, and overall help you save time. Your institution may have a librarian dedicated to your area that has developed a LibGuide to help students in your area. Also make note of the “Chat with a Librarian” or other ways to connect (via email, social media, phone, etc) with your support network through this process!