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Information Literacy Modules: Search Limiters

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Search Limiters: Catalog

Search Limiters: Library Catalog. This is a slide show. There are forward and back arrows on the left and right sides for navigation. This presentation is twenty slides long.

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Basic Keyword Search Screen (Simple Search)

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This is the Simple Search screen of the Library’s catalog. This interface provides access to: SJR State’s materials, a statewide search of all the public universities and colleges in Florida, and a combined search of SJR State’s holdings with Full Text Database materials. To see the various search modes, click on the green magnifying glass icon in the search box. Image: View of the Simple Search bar on the Library Catalog's home screen.

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Search Modes. When you first open the catalog, the Simple Search screen that comes up defaults to searching the SJR State Catalog. It uses a Keyword, or natural language, type of search. Much like Google, or Bing. You can see what mode is being searched when you click on the magnifying glass icon. The other options can be seen to the left when the drop down menu is opened. Selecting those options changes the mode you are searching. Selecting either of the other two modes will not change what the catalog looks like, or how it functions for searching. What will change is the content it brings back in the results. Image 1, View of Simple Search bar with Search the SJR State Library Catalog visible. Image 2, View of the drop down menu open to also display Search Statewide Catalog and  Search Everything - Databases & Catalog.

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Advanced Keyword Search Screen

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The Advanced Keyword Search screen more functions to control how you are searching: Search for;  Multiple Search Lines;  Add a New Line; Search Fields; Search Conditions; Boolean Operators available;  Material Type; Language; Date Range.

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Advanced Search: Search For. Search For provides the same search modes seen on the Simple Search screen:  Search the SJR State Library Catalog. Search Statewide Catalog. Search Everything – Databases & Catalogs. Each mode is now selectable with a radio button. Image: View of Advanced Search Screen.

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Advanced Search: Multiple Search Lines and Add a New Line. As seen in the image below, the Advanced Search provides 2 fields to add terms, with drop down menus that allow you to mix how you are searching.  Add a New Line allows you to add more search lines to combine more terms. It will allow you to add up to 5 additional lines, for a total of 7. Image: View of multiple  search lines. One of the advantages of having multiple search fields is the ability to combine search terms in ways you cannot on the basic search screen. If you know a subject heading and want to combine that with another keyword that is not a subject heading, it is possible in this mode.

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Advanced Search: Search Fields: Any Field (Keyword) and Subject. All of the options  available allow you to search specific areas of the bibliographic records. We will discuss what a bibliographic record is in the Evaluating Search Results section, and show what these terms refer to.  Any Field: this is what the Simple Search screen uses to find results. It is what is referred to in some systems as a Keyword search.  Subject: this search looks directly at what are known as Subject Headings. This is a controlled vocabulary search. Any and Subject fields work better for topical searches. The Any Field searches the entire record for the terms entered, resulting in the largest amount of results. The Subject field searches the Subject Headings on the records, resulting in smaller amount of results. The question becomes, which field is better to use? Image: View of open Search Field drop-down menu. Any Field and Subject are highlighted.

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Advanced Search: Search Fields: Choosing Any Field vs. Subject. While the Any Field will produce more results, it is not a very concise search. Many of the results will be off topic, leaving more records to sort through.  The Subject field, on the other hand, only searches the Subject Heading area, so there will be less, but more relevant results. The down side to this field is if controlled vocabulary for a topic has not been identified yet, there may be no results, or results that are not relevant. The answer to which is better to begin with is, it depends. Try both and see where you get, but remember that if you don’t find anything on a Subject search, try an Any Field search and see what it brings back.

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Advanced Search: Search Fields: Title and Author. Title and Author/Creator fields are very narrow for searching, they focus on the title of items, or the author(s) of items. They are not useful for topical searching, but very specific when searching for a particular item (book, ebook, DVD, streaming video, etc) or materials by an author. Literature classes find these fields helpful.   The rest of the options search specific areas of the records.  ISBN: This looks for the International Standard Book Number. If you happen to have an ISBN, this is a great way to find a specific book. ISSN: This looks for the International Standard Serial Number. If you happen to know the ISSN of a journal or magazine, this will show if a record is in the Catalog. It will not provide full text articles. For general topical searching, these are not very useful. Image: View of Search Fields drop-down menu. Title, Author/Creator, ISBN, and ISSN are highlighted.

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Advanced Search: Search Conditions. Search Conditions tell the system how you want it to work with the terms you  are entering.  Contains: this looks for the terms anywhere, and in any order. They do not need to be next to each other, or even near each other on the record Is (Exact): this tells the system to look for the terms you are entering in the precise order you type them, next to each other.  Starts With: This is used with title searching. And as it sounds, it would be looking at the beginning of a title. You will not be able to select another field if this is used on a line. Image: View of the Search Conditions  drop-down menu.

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Boolean Operators. Boolean Operators refer to the three words in the end drop down menu: AND, OR, NOT. These terms function to broaden or limit your search. When combined with the other drop down menus, this becomes a very dynamic search environment. We will look at what each does next, but it is important to remember what they do, as these operators play a role in our next slide show, More Search Limiters. Image: View of advanced search screen, Boolean drop-down menus are visible.

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Boolean Operators: AND. Boolean operators apply what is referred to as Boolean logic to searching. The operator AND requires that both terms be present on a search result, so it is used to narrow your search. The terms do not have to be next to each other, nor do they need to be related in any way, just that they are present. This is helpful in limiting a large list of results by adding another search term. Image 1: Boolean drop-down menu is visible, AND is highlighted. Image 2: Venn Diagram ofthe union of two terms. Image 3: Arrow is pointing  at the union or intersection of the diagram.

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Boolean Operators: OR. The operator OR allows for either of the terms to be present, so it is used to expand your search. Normally you would not use this operator on the advanced search screen, unless working with two or more terms that are related and fit into your topic, and you are not expecting a large amount of results for either. Image 1: Boolean drop-down menu is visible, OR is highlighted. Image 2: Venn Diagram of all results included. Image 3: Arrow indicates all results.

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Boolean Operators: NOT. The operator NOT allows you to remove terms, so it is also a way to narrow a search. This is very useful when unrelated materials on a specific subject are retrieved, and you would like to just remove the unwanted materials. It helps to remember that when stringing several terms together with the multiple search fields, if you want to remove a term with NOT, always put that term in the last field you use. Computers read operators in the order they are encounter, and placing NOT too soon will eliminate useful terms. Image 1: Boolean drop-down menu is visible, NOT is highlighted. Image 2: Venn Diagram of the second search term removed from search set.

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Advanced Search: Material Type. Material Type refers to the type of source being searched. The dropdown menu seen here shows the various formats available to be searched in the system.   You can only search one format at a time, or all at once. Some of the format descriptions will include more than one type of material. The Book format will include traditional paper books and eBooks. There is no Format type for eBooks, but there is a way to remove eBooks from results that we will describe in Using Finding Tool Features: System Tools. The Video/Film format will include film, streaming videos, and DVDs.  The most common formats in our collections are Books and Video/Film materials. The Journals Material Type searches to see if a journal title is owned. Many times it can find Journals that are available in the various databases the College has access to, but it will not look for articles. The Search Everything – Databases & Catalogs mode allows you to mix other database results with the catalog. We will explain this further in a bit. Image: View of the Material Type drop-down menu.

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Advanced Search: Language. The Language limiter allows the user to search for material written in a specific language.  There are far more languages listed in this menu than are available through the SJR State collections.  Most of the materials available in the SJR State catalog are written in English. If you run across a source written in a language you can read, but your instructor cannot, it is best to ask if they will accept that source in your project. Image: View of the Language drop-down menu, English is highlighted.

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Advanced Search: Date Range. Image: View of the Date Range  drop-down menu. The Date Range limiter can be very useful. When looking for material on a subject that requires current materials, you can focus your result into the last 5 years by putting 2017 in the first box and 2021 in the second. Or just put in a single year to limit to only material published then.  The Day and Month selectors would only be used if searching for articles from periodicals in the Search Everything – Databases and Catalog mode.  This is not a limiter to find material published on or about a specific era. When looking for material specifically on World War II, you would need to search for the subject heading World War, 1939-1945.

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Conclusion. These are the search functions of the Catalog. We will move onto working with searching results in a bit. For now let us consider more complex ways to  structure searching. You may have noticed that we have not covered the Databases or the other search modes available on the SJR State Catalog in this presentation. We will examine those modes and some database searching after the next segment. The main functions of the other tabs work like the areas we just explored and most databases have very similar search features as the catalog. For this reason, these segments will not be as involved.

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More Search Limiters

This portion will focus on advanced searching techniques. Many of these techniques work in the catalog and in the various databases. Some of these incorporate the Boolean Operators seen in the previous segment. They are:




Each different search system (Library Catalog, database, etc.) may handle these concepts differently. Check the Help section of any system to see what it uses and how to format the search strings.


Proximity involves several techniques to ensure that search terms remain close to each other in the result records. Which proximity commands a search system will recognize may vary, so check the help files on any given system to see how to structure them correctly. Here is a basic rundown:

  • Quotation marks or ADJ: the most basic proximity command is to place quotation marks around the terms or phrase, or place the operator ADJ (i.e. adjacent) between words. The more words that are included within the search, the fewer result should be expected. Normally two to three words would be the most. These operators force the system to find the terms next to each other, in the order they are typed, on the results records. Example, “computer science” or computer ADJ science.
  • Near: this search tells the system to look for the words entered to be near each other in the results. They do not need to be next to each other, or in the order typed. Most systems will look for the terms next to each other unless told to look further out. Near 5 expands the word limit by five words. Example (but remember that each search system can be different), television n3 violence. This would find television violence, violence on television, violence caused by television, but not violence as depicted on the average television station.
  • Within: this search tells the system that the terms entered need to be within x amount of words, in the order they are given. Example, John w2 Rockefeller would find John Rockefeller, John D. Rockefeller, John Davison Rockefeller, but not Rockefeller, John.


Truncation and Wildcard are related operators. Depending on the search system, it may utilize the same symbol (the asterisks * and pound sign # are used often) for both functions or it may use different symbols. Check the help file to see.

  • Truncation: placing a truncation operator at the root of the word will tell the system to search for all possible forms of the word. Example, educat* will provide the following results: educate, educates, educated, educating, educator, education, educational, etc. When using truncation, keep in mind that the system only replaces the missing letters after the root. It will not look for shorter forms of the word. Example, laborator* will find results for laboratory and laboratories, but not lab.
  • Wildcard: placing a wildcard operator within a word allows for different spellings/forms of the word. If looking to replace more than one letter, it may be necessary to use more than one operator. Again, check the help file. Example, wom*n will provide both woman and women.


Nesting allows the user to combine various operators to create complex searches. The most common operator used are parentheses. Normally, related words (synonyms) are combined within the parentheses with the Boolean operator OR, and then paired with another keyword using AND. AND would not be used within the parentheses. Example, (education OR learning) AND math will provide results that contain the following combinations: education and math; learning and math; education, learning, and math. Not using the parenthesis would create the search education or learning and math, which would provide results including all three, result with only learning and math, or result that only include education, having nothing to do with math. It may be possible to include truncation or proximity within the parentheses or outside of them. Check the help file, or just experiment with the search system to see what works.

Applying techniques in the SJR State Catalog

Primo search bar with suggested search string

To employ these various ways of searching in the SJR State Catalog, you can use the Boolean Searching option on the Simple search screen.    When using truncation, do not capitalize the word in the Library Catalog. Try working with these techniques and see how it changes your search outcomes.

Example: “social media” AND teen* AND (impact OR harm)

Search Limiters: Catalog Continued

Search Limiters: Databases

Search Limiters: Databases. This is a slide show. There are forward and back arrows on the left and right sides for navigation. This presentation is fourteen slides long.

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Databases: As mentioned before, the databases have many of the same limiters as the catalog. There are some that do not apply, such as location. And others that are not present in the Library Catalog, such as Full Text (though it is available on CatalogPlus).  The college has access to a long list of databases. The list is too long to go through each one and point out the various limiters available. Fortunately, many of the databases are produced by the same companies, and therefor look and work much the same. With this in mind, we will focus on the following producers: EBSCO (Academic Search Complete) Gale (Academic OneFile) ProQuest (All Subscribed Content) JSTOR It is worth noting that of these four databases, the EBSCO, Gale, and JSTOR products are what is known as General Databases, in that they cover all academic subjects. The ProQuest service the college has access to is limited to certain subjects.

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EBSCO: Academic Search Complete

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This is a view of the Basic Search screen in EBSCO. They provide two areas to control how you are searching. Modes and Expanders Limit your results Modes and expanders offer the ability to work with several settings. From the question mark button next to Search modes:  “Boolean/Phrase – Supports any Boolean searching or exact phrase searching. Stop words are ignored when part of phrases being searched. For more info on Booleans, click Here. Find all of my search terms – Auto AND all search terms entered (e.g. web AND accessibility)  Find any of my search terms – Auto OR all search terms entered (e.g. web OR accessibility)  SmartText Searching - You can copy and paste large chunks of text to search for results. SmartText Searching leverages a technology that summarizes text entered to the most relevant search terms then conducts search. This search mode is not available for all databases.  When you click the SmartText Searching radio button, the Find field grows to indicate that you can enter as much text as you want. Type in text, or copy and paste text from an article (or other source) into the Find field, select any other limiters or expanders, and click Search.  SmartText Searching will run the search using the citation's abstract and a new Result List will display. If no abstract is available, SmartText Searching will run the search on the article title. If SmartText Searching is not available in the database being searched, Find Similar Results searches the article's subject headings or descriptors. “

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EBSCO Basic Search Limiters: This is the Limiter section: Full text – this feature allows you to filter out citations that do not have the full text attached.  Most databases index more material than they provide full text. Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) Journals – this filer limits results to only peer-reviewed publications. What peer-review means was discussed in Developing a Research Strategy. Publications – If looking for material from a specific journal, magazine, newspaper, etc., the title can be entered here and all results will be from that publication. Number of Pages – The default is All, which means the results can be anywhere from 1 page to 100 (or more). The other choices are: Equal To, Less Than, Greater Than. This can be helpful when wanting to avoid brief articles, or ones that are more involved than the assignment requires. Equal to would be very limiting. References Available – This filter limits to materials that contain references to other materials (e.g. journal articles, book chapters, etc.).  Published Date – Just like the Year limiter in the catalog Publication Type – This is also like the Format limiter in the catalog. Which types of formats will depend on the database.  Image Quick View and Image Quick View Types – These allow you to control the types of images displayed in the results.

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This is a view of EBSCO’s Advanced Search screen. All of the functions available on the basic search are included, with a few more options.   At the top, multiple search fields are provided with the same And, Or, Not Boolean operators as the catalog. Also a drop down menu of field options is also present.  The other main difference is in addition to Publication Type, there is Document Type. The distinction being the type of material retrieved from the various types of publications. For example, you can filter down to only articles from periodicals, or only chapters from books.

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Gale Academic OneFile

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Gale Academic OneFile Advanced Search: Gale is not as unified in how they present their search interfaces as EBSCO, but most of the databases the college has access to open much like this one. Instead of having two search screens, Gale places their Basic Search at the top of the page, and then displays their Advanced Search immediately under.   You will most likely notice that though the page looks different, most of the same limiters are available. The advanced screen allows for multiple field searching with Boolean operators.  They provide a Full Text filter, a Peer Reviewed Journals filter, and a Contains Images filter. They provide a way to filter on publication date. There is a Publication title limiter.  The one area that Gale offers that is different is the ability to filter on Lexile levels and scores. This is at the bottom of the page under “by publication title.” A Lexile score or level is how hard the item is to read.  Peer reviewed journals will have a higher Lexile level than magazines.

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ProQuest All Subscribed Content

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ProQuest Basic Search Screen ProQuest has a very simple Basic Search screen. It only provides Full Text and Peer reviewed filters. The subject areas covered by the college’s access to ProQuest are displayed below the search box.

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ProQuest Advanced Search Screen ProQuest’s Advanced Search has many of the same filters and limiters as the other two products.  They function in the same ways.   One of the areas that is different is the Person, NAICS, Subject heading (all), Location, and Company/organization features. These fields allow you to look up the various areas and add those results to your search. It adds as a keyword element.   The bottom of the page provides the following options: View of options availabe on the bottom of the page, which include: Sort results by, with drop-down menu to change how results are displayed. Items per page, with drop-down menu that provides a preset list of numbers. Duplicates, with check box to allow results to diplay duplicate results. Display Search Expansions, with check box to show additional terms included in the search.

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JSTOR Advanced Search Screen JSTOR opens to its Advanced Search screen. They do provide multiple search fields with the Boolean operators and field limiters.   One filter that is not as obvious is full text. The drop down menu for “Select an access type” tells the system if you want to “Read and download,” “Read online only,” or “All content.” The default “Read and download” is the best way to narrow down to available full text content. The other two options will provide materials you do not have access to through the college.  One filter that is not present is Peer Reviewed. To know if a particular journal is peer reviewed, one would have to look the journal up  and get that information from the publisher’s Web page. That is not to say that the content in JSTOR is not good, it is in fact an excellent database, and many of the journals are peer reviewed, it just doesn’t provide a filter.   Most of the rest of the filters are comparable to the other producers.

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Conclusion These are the main differences between the databases presented. You probably noticed that they are more or less the same type of search. Most databases do work the same way, with a few differences in available filters and limiters. So the good news is once you get used to working in these search environments, using other databases isn’t so intimidating. It becomes a matter of how best to get to the information needed for your assignment.   The next section will examine doing a search, and looking at the results.

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