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Finding Articles: Using Academic Search Complete

This guide will aid in finding scholarly articles from the databases available at Illinois College.

Database Search Tricks

Most databases tend to share a number of the same search tricks as you can use in our VuFind catalog.

  • About stop words -- Most databases ignore very common English words and contractions, sometimes called "stop words." Be careful when using stop words in searches as you may get unexpected results (e.g. searching for "Into the Wild" will ignore both "into" and "the" and search only for "wild"). For a full list of stop words ignored by VuFind searches, follow this link. Again, most of these stop words will be in common between VuFind and most databases.
  • Use quotations marks to keep phrases together like "West Side Story" and "social justice". But be careful -- make sure something is really a phrase or you might miss important results. Stop words may still be ignored in exact phrase searches!
  • Use truncation (putting * after the root of a word) to find variations of a word. Librar* finds library, libraries, librarian, and librarians. This can be a very useful tool for expanding a search to include related terms.
  • Using boolean operators -- these are simple words (ANDORNOT) used as conjunctions to combine or exclude keywords in a search, resulting in more focused and productive results. This should save time and effort by eliminating inappropriate hits that must be scanned before discarding.
    • AND -- requires both terms to be in each item returned. If one term is contained in the document and the other is not, the item is not included in the resulting list. (Narrows the search)
    • OR -- either term (or both) will be in the returned document. (Broadens the search) 
    • NOT -- the first term is searched, then any records containing the term after the operators are subtracted from the results. (Be careful with use as the attempt to narrow the search may be too exclusive and eliminate good records). If you need to search the word not, that can usually be done by placing double quotes around it.
  • Using parentheses -- Using the ( ) to enclose search strategies will customize your results to more accurately reflect your topic. Search engines deal with search statements within the parentheses first, then apply any statements that are not enclosed.
    • Example: A search on (smoking or tobacco) and cancer returns articles containing: smoking and cancer; tobacco and cancer smoking; cancer, and tobacco; but does not return smoking or tobacco when cancer is not mentioned. 

Using Academic Search Complete

Academic Search Complete is one of many EBSCO databases, and is an excellent general use database with materials covering a range of topics. Our multidatabase search is also based on EBSCO, so learning how to use this database will give you a good foundation for using many others.

The first thing you will notice when opening Academic Search Complete are the various search fields.

Screencap of the Academic Search Complete search fields.

By default, keywords will search all text. Other options, such as title searches or subject term searches can be selected from the drop-down menus and allow you to search for your keywords appearing in only the title, or only within the various subject terms defining the various articles in the database. You can add additional search fields using the "+" button next to the last search field in your list. If you want to exclude certain terms from your search, you can also use the drop-down menu on the left-hand side of each search bar to "NOT" which will indicate you want results that do not include a given term.

There are also a number of other advanced search options that you can take advantage of when using Academic Search Complete. Highlighted below are a few limiters that we highly recommend applying when using this database. Those include limiting your results to full text only (which will ensure that your results include only materials that you can access immediately), to scholarly (peer reviewed) journals only (which is a common requirement for sources in academic papers), and to certain date ranges (again, a common requirement from professors will be to find only the most recent research).

Screencap of Academic Search Complete advanced search options.

These various limiters can also be applied or removed once you have already made an initial search as well. In Academic Search Complete, these various limiters will be available on the left-hand side of the list of your search results. Below is an example highlighting the use of some of the various search fields and limiters to return a focused number of results.

Screencap of Academic Search Complete results list.

Once you find an article that looks good to you, click on the blue title text to open the item record. You will see something like this:

Screencap of Academic Search Complete item record.

There are a number of useful fields of information within the item record. Firstly, on the upper left side of the screen will be an icon and link to download the full text of your article, if it is available. On the far right side of the screen will be some similar options allowing you to send a copy of the article to yourself in an email, to save the permalink (a stable URL) for the record of the item within the database, and to create a quick citation of the item in multiple varying formats (though you should always double-check that the citation is correct). You can also find other useful information like a link to the source (which would allow you to see similar or related items that were published in the same journal), view subject terms that were used to define this item (which can be helpful in finding further keywords to expand your search later), and read an abstract (or summary) of the article which will help you to determine whether an article is actually relevant to your needs!