Master of Counselling: Effective Searching

Finding Articles on a Similar Topic

When you find an article which is matching your search criteria you may use it to locate more resources related to your research topic.The following strategies are recommended:

  • identify the keywords and subject terms assigned to the article and use them to conduct a new search
  • look for hyperlinks to  'Cited by', 'Times cited in this database', or 'Time cited'
  • look for the 'Find similar results' or 'Related items' link
  • scan the list of references used by the author(s).

Searching Within a Particular Journal

You can search within a specific journal for your search terms, an author's name, or the article title.

To locate a journal:

  • enter the journal title in the Journal Title search
  • select the name of the database you wish to use to access the journal
  • look for a place to choose the year, volume, and issue that you require.

Search Terms - Keywords

Keywords (commonly called search terms) are the words that represent the main concepts of your research topic. Once you enter them into database search boxes you will identify all journal articles containing them in any part of the article e.g. title, abstract or the main text. 

These  might take a number of forms such as: 

synonyms substance use disorder or substance addiction 

different spellings (British and American English) behaviour  and  behavior

alternative endings (plurals or different tenses) child and children

acronyms  CBT for cognitive behaviour therapy 

Searches with combinations of these various words increase the chances of retrieving relevant articles. Some search techniques are presented below in the Searching with Keywords section.

#  Watch this video to learn how to identify keywords when searching for information on a topic.

Searching with Keywords

The three most commonly used operators are ANDOR and NOT.   They can be used to broaden or narrow your set of results and to exclude unwanted search terms and concepts.

For example:

AND will narrow your search returning results that contain all of your search terms 

counselling AND research AND methodology

OR will broaden your search returning results that contain any but not all of your search terms. It is useful for finding synonyms or where different words are of equal value in your search 

counselling OR counseling

NOT will narrow your search by eliminating words from your search results. It should be used with care as it can easily exclude relevant results.

behavioural problems NOT behavioural therapy

To search for two or more words in exact order, place double quotation marks " " around the words. The database will only return articles containing that specific phrase rather than articles containing each word found individually anywhere in the text.


The phrase "group therapy"  will retrieve articles with all words as you typed them in with no other words in between. 

Truncation is also known as stemming, is a technique that broadens your search to include alternative word endings and spellings.

To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol * at the end.
The database will return results that include any ending of that root word.
For example:

counsel* = counselling, counseling, counselling, councellor
child* = child, child's, children, children's, childhood

It is important not to shorten the root too much as it may retrieve too many irrelevant results. For example chil*  will bring up childless, chiller, chilly, and Chile.


Wildcard symbols are used to represent one character or letter inside of a search term. This search technique useful if a word is spelt in different ways but still has the same meaning. 

Common symbols include: 

(exclamation mark)

? (question mark), and

# (number sign)


behavo!r = behaviour, behavior
p?ediatric = pediatric, paediatric

The symbols vary between databases. This information is usually found in the Help section of a database.


Searching with Subject Terms

When you search using subject terms you are searching for matching the content of the database subject field rather than searching through the text as it happens with a keyword search.  These terms are unique to each database, and depending on the discipline, they can be referred to as Subjects, Subject Headings, Subject Terms, Descriptors, Thesaurus, or Index Terms.  For example, the PsycINFO database uses  'APA Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms', the Medline database refers to  MeSH (Medical Subject Headings), and the CINAHL database has CINAHL Subject Headings. 

Keywords vs Subject Terms

An effective way to locate information sources and minimise the possibility of missing out relevant articles is to combine both keyword and subject term search.

When you execute the keyword search, the results will only return such articles with the keywords you've typed into the search box. The database looks for keywords in all fields in a database  - not necessarily connected together. This may be one of the reasons your searches may retrieve too many results. The subject term search is a more precise technique and reflecting the main focus of the book or article. When using subject terms you may have fewer results than keyword searching but results are more relevant.