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Tutorials: Advanced Searching

Learn how to use library resources, do research and more!


This page provides additional information about search strategies and ideas that aren't covered elsewhere in the guide. Check it out to find some topics that may be helpful for you!

Using Subject Headings

Do you ride a toboggan or wear one on your head? Do you drink pop, soda, soda pop, or coke? The fact of the matter is that there are often a lot of ambiguities in how we use language--and it can make it hard to search. For example, if I want articles about reading level, I might use any of the following terms:

  • Reading level
  • Reading achievement
  • Literacy
  • Reading tests

Since databases are basically giant word-matching machines, a search for reading level won't necessarily get articles about literacy, because the words simply aren't the same. Synonyms, different word usage, ambiguity, and levels of technical language can all make searching difficult.

Subject terms are basically a way to get around these problems, by providing a standardized vocabulary for describing concepts. Each database has its own controlled vocabulary, because each discipline has different needs in terms of specificity and relevant concepts. For example, the term for cancer in Academic Search Complete (a general database) is cancer. In CINAHL (a nursing database that uses technical language) it's neoplasms.

Check out the other two tabs to see examples of ways you can use subject headings in your searches.

One of the easiest ways to start using subject headings is to check out the subjects of good articles you've already found! If you find a great article in one of our databases, click on the title (usually listed in blue) to open the article information.

Once you have the article information open, you should see a lot of useful information--including an abstract (if one is available), supplemental information (like author affiliation) and a complete list of subject headings. See the picture below:

This image shows the location of the subject headings in the article information.

These subject terms can be very useful if I want to add them to my search--for example, in this search, if I had been searching using the term reading level, I may want to consider including READING standards and/or READING -- Ability testing.

All of these subject terms are linked, so if I wanted to see every single article in the databases about reading standards, I could simply click on the link. Keep in mind, though, that that would start an entirely new search, so I would have to re-add any limiters (ex. date/peer-reviewed) or other search terms I'd been using.

Now you try! Find an article you like and check out the subject terms. Then click on one to see all the available material for that topic.

You can also put together a search from scratch using the subject headings. Keep in mind that this is a different type of search--in a keyword search (the kind you type your search terms into the search boxes), you are matching your terms to articles that contain those terms. In a subject heading search, you are matching your terms to standardized vocabulary that you then use to match with articles. Let me show you what I mean. To get to the subject headings search box, click on Subject Terms at the top of the search screen in Academic Search Complete:

This image shows the location of the "Subject Terms" link on the main menu of Academic Search Complete.

Once you click on Subject Terms, you'll be taken to a search screen that looks like this (the highlighted area is the search box you'll use to try to find your terms):

This image shows the subject heading search screen in Academic Search Complete.

You'll type a concept you're searching for into the highlighted search box (don't put anything into the upper search box yet--just use the Browsing box). Then click Browse. Here's an example search for reading level:

This image shows a subject heading search for "reading level."

If you look at these search results, you'll notice that there is not an exact match for the term I typed in. However, the database redirect me to the standardized term for what I typed in (Use READING achievement). Since this is a standardized vocabulary, I need to make sure I find the correct terms for my search.

If I wanted to use READING achievement in my search, I would click on that term (everything in blue is linked in the database) and see that term in context. Here is what it would look like (with the options to select and add it highlighted):

This image shows the subject heading "Reading Achievement," as well as the location of the check-box to select it, and the button to add it to the search.

If I want to add READING achievement to my search, I'd click on the check-box to the left of the term, then click the Add button. This will cause the term to appear in the top search box:

This image shows the subject term in the top search box.

The DE is a code that just means you are searching in the subject headings.

If you want to add another subject term to your search (which you might not), type something else into the browse box (the lower search box--you don't type directly into the top box during a subject heading search), then hit Browse. For example, the image below shows the results of a search for public schools, with the options to select and add the term highlighted.

This image shows a subject search for "public schools" with the options to select and add highlighted.

Unlike last time, here I see that there's an exact match for my term (PUBLIC schools). Now I can check the box to the left, and add it to my search with the Add button.

NOTE: The default operator for subject heading searches is OR, and you will probably want to use AND--remember, OR will give you results that include any of your terms and AND will give you results that feature all of your terms--check out the AND/OR/NOT section of the Databases page if you need a refresher on the difference.

Once you hit Add, you should see your term appear in the upper search box:

This image shows the search box with two subject headings listed.

If it looks good, hit Search to see your results! Give it a try to see if subject headings searches are useful to you.

The subject headings may be called something else in different databases (ex. Thesaurus in PsycINFO, CINAHL Headings in CINAHL), but the search option is typically in the same location and has the same function.

Finding Dissertations

A comprehensive literature review of a topic may require using master's theses and doctoral dissertations on the topic, especially if you are a graduate or doctoral student at Gonzaga.  The following databases are the best ways to find dissertations at Gonzaga. If you don't find what you're looking for, also check out the additional options below.


Borrowing Dissertations using InterLibrary Loan (ILLiad) -- It may be possible to borrow a copy of a dissertation from another university. Log into your ILLiad account and fill out the Thesis/Dissertation Request form. Foley's ILL staff will contact you if there is a problem getting a dissertation and let you know if other options are available. 

British Theses & Dissertaions - EthOS is an online search tool for dissertations and thesesheld at the British Library and many academic libraries across the UK. Create an account to download items. Non-open access dissertaions and theses are also available for purchase.

Canadian Dissertations - The Theses Canada Portal is a searchable database of dissertations and theses from Canadian universities. The  electronic dissertations in this collection may be viewed online or downloaded. Non-electronic theses/dissertations may be purchased from the site or requested using ILLiad. FYI, Canadian theses/dissertations supplied through interlibrary loan are mailed to Foley Library from the National Library of Canada and arrive in microfiche format.

Open Access Theses & Dissertations - " aims to be the best possible resource for finding open access graduate theses and dissertations published around the world." OATD FAQ.

Using MyEBSCOhost

One feature of the EBSCOhost databases that you might want to try is making a My EBSCOhost account. We recommend you do this if you use EBSCOhost databases (like Academic Search Complete, CINAHL, ERIC, etc.).

Here are the benefits of creating an EBSCOhost account:

  • All articles you add to your folder will be saved.
  • You can create an alert for searches you want to be re-run at regular times.
  • You can set personal preferences for how EBSCO displays results.
  • You can save and share other features, like search links.

One major benefit of these features if you won't lose your work (ex. articles in your folder) if your computer crashes or you accidentally close your browser.

If you want to create an account, it's really simple--just click on Sign In from any EBSCOhost database:

This image shows the location of the "Sign In" option in Academic Search Complete.

Then you click on Create a New Account:

This image shows where to click to create a new account.

Then you'll need to fill in the form that pops up--your name, e-mail, username, password, and security question. Keep in mind that this username and password are unique, and aren't the same as your BlackBoard and Zagmail. You can set the username and password to anything you want, and you don't have to change it regularly--just make sure it's a strong password that you can remember. 

Once you finish and click Save Changes, your account will be ready! When you want to sign in, just click on the Sign In button (like we did above) and then put in your new username and password.

We recommend you sign in whenever you're working in EBSCO, so your work won't be lost if your session gets interrupted.

The most useful feature of MyEBSCO is the Folder, which allows you to save any article you are interested in to a folder where you can retrieve it later--it's very useful for quickly identifying some articles that may help with your research.

Once you are signed in to your MyEBSCO account, you can save an article by simply clicking the folder icon next to an article:

This image highlights the folder icon on the EBSCOhost search page.

You can add as many articles as you want to your folder.

Once you have items in your folder, you should see the Folder has items box on the right side of the page:

This image shows the "Folder has items" box.

Click on Folder View if you want to be able to organize your articles. From the Folder View, you can create new folders under My Custom on the left-hand side. You can also delete articles and share folders.

This image highlights the folder options in the folder view.

The Folder View also shows you anything else you've saved to your account--like alerts. Some of these items (like Companies) are not very likely to be relevant to you, but feel free to explore and see what features are helpful!

Another useful feature of MyEBSCOhost is alerts. An alert is when the database runs a particular search automatically and sends you the results. For example, if you wanted a weekly update of new articles about "servant leadership," setting up an alert would be a great way to do it.

To set up an alert, first run the search you want to use. Then click on Share and find the E-mail Alert option. See the image below for where this option is on a completed search:

This image shows the location of the "Share" menu and "E-mail Alert" option.

Make sure to do this when you are signed in to MyEBSCO (otherwise, you'll won't be able to specify which e-mail you want the alert sent to).

The form to create an alert will pop up--you'll want to enter the e-mail address you want it sent to, the frequency you want your alert sent, how recent of articles you want included, and any other options you want to check.

This image shows the "Create Alert" menu.

Then hit Save Alert and your alert should be ready to go!

Journal Alerts: Get Updates When a New Issue Comes Out

Creating a Journal Alert in an EBSCO database

1. Click on Sign In at the top right of the database page to sign in or create a new free account.

2. Click on  at the top left of the page to find your journal.

3. Click on Share at the right side of the page and then choose E-mail Alert


Creating a Journal Alert in a Proquest Database

1. Click on Publications near the top of the database page and find your journal.

2. Once you have clicked into the journal's page, click on Set up alert (under Publication Information).


4. Once you have created the alert, check your email and confirm it:


Creating a Journal Alert in Ingenta

Ingenta is a database of Tables of Content, indexing more than 25,000 journals. Even if we don't have access to a journal through one of our databases, if the journal is indexed in Ingenta you can still get alerted when a new issue comes out.

1. From, click on Databases and find Ingenta.

2. Enter your journal's name in the search box, and then click on the  menu and choose 

3. Under "Tools" on the right side of the page, click . Sign in or register for a new free account.

4. An alert will be sent to the email address you registered with whenever a new issue comes out.