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Middle East and Islamic Studies Library Resources

A guide designed for graduate students and researchers.

Steps for Searching in an Online Database

Step 1: test a simple search

Start with just one or two simple keywords and page through the results.


  • Publication types

    • Primary or secondary sources?

    • Academic or popular?

    • Published manuscript?

    • Journals, books, datasets?

  • Time periods

  • Disciplines

  • Regions and Language

  • What is being searched?

    • Where are your keywords?

    • Is the full text of sources being searched?

    • Is a catalog-style description being searched?

    • Is a list of categories being searched?

Step 2: what can you manipulate?

  • Look for filters, sort options, and other ways to organize your results

  • Look for an “advanced” or “expert” search page

  • Explore drop-down menus: what are your options? What metadata fields does this database use? What happens when you deploy them?

  • Does the database employ a specialized, or “controlled,” vocabulary? Can you access it? Look for a thesaurus or index or other way to browse “subjects” in the database.

Step 3: find the "Help" page

  • Are there search tips available?

  • What rules does the database follow in interpreting what you put into your search?

  • Is there an “About” page? How does the database describe itself?

  • N.B.: sometimes the best description and help is not in the database itself. Try Googling the database name for tips on using it well from librarians and fellow researchers.

Other features to look for:

Search operators

  • AKA, Boolean operators, wildcards, truncation, command search

  • Pro Tip: an Advanced Search often constructs Boolean searches for you (AND, OR, and NOT). Use the Help page to learn more


Citation export

  • AKA, save, send, folder, list, My Research

  • Pro Tip: don’t rely on the database’s citation storage system – it’s better to export to your e-mail or to Zotero, EndNote, etc.


Access to full text

  • AKA, Read, PDF, HTML, View Online, FindIt@Harvard

  • Pro Tip: Be persistent! Sometimes it takes several clicks to get to the full text.


(with thanks to Odile Harter for permission to adapt and reuse from the UNABRIDGED: A Master Class in Library Research guide)