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Newspapers and other online news sources from the 17th – 21st centuries: Building your search - example

A guide to historical and current newspapers and news sources, covering the 17th to 21st centuries. Includes searching tips, outline common problems and lists key resources available to Oxford scholars.

Combining searches (AND - OR)

It is a good idea to first think about your main search concepts e.g. if you are researching the rights of child refugees in Britain, your concepts are rights, children, refugees and Britain.

Strictly speaking you should put an AND between each concept when you search a database so that the database knows that you only want items which include all of your concepts. Many modern databases will guess that you mean AND even if you don’t remember to enter it. However, some of the newspaper databases are quite old fashioned and do require AND so its a good idea to get into the habit of adding it.

Its also important to think of alternative terms which may have been used. For example, there are lots of alternative words for children such as minors, juveniles and youths. To ensure that you pick up results which include any of these terms, you need to use OR between them.

When you are using AND (to combine distinct concepts) and OR (for alternative words) within the same search string, put the words combined with OR within parentheses. This helps the database to understand which terms are alternatives.

Truncation and phrase searches

  • * (asterisk) replaces any number of letters after the stem of a word. For instance, child* will find any word that starts child e.g. child, children, childhood, childish.  Likewise Brit* finds Britain and British. You can also add it to all word which could be plural or singular e.g. juvenile or juveniles.
  • ? (question mark) replaces one character. e.g. Used on the end of minor? it will find minor and minors. This is different from the * asterisk as it will only find words with one additional letter on the end. It is useful for minor because it will find minor and minors but not minorities. It can also be used in the middle of a word e.g. wom?n to find woman or women
  • “quotation marks” use quotation marks around words which must occur next to one another as a phrase. In this case we are only interested in the words asylum seeker when they occur together as a phrase. We are not interested in asylums on their own or seekers. Quotation marks are good for words which mean something distinctive when they are used together (e.g. "asylum seeker", "secondary school", "World war", "human rights". They are also useful for the names of countries (e.g. "United Kingdom") and organisations (e.g."World Health Organisation")

Proximity searches

You can replace AND in your search with a proximity operator.

Proximity operators will ensure that the words that you enter must appear near to one another. This avoids the scenario where one of your keywords appears on page 1 of the newspaper and another on page 7 with no relation to the first. This is particularly useful in the historical databases where often you search the whole newspaper rather than individual articles.

Unlike the other operators, the proximity operator is only available in some databases and uses different notation from one database to another. For example, some databases use the proximity operator NEAR, others user SAME and others use w/n (where n is a number of words).  To find out if a particular database allows proximity searching and what notation you should use, read the Help section in each database.