Advanced Searching in Design: Design Research Guide

Librarian: Karen DeWitt

This page is not intended to be a guide to any database in particular, but rather a description of the usual search capabilities that are built into many databases. These capabilities may have different names from one database to the next. If you have problems, you should look on the help screens for the database you're using.

Advanced Searching in Keyword

You can use a single word in Keyword searching but it will most likely result in larger, less focused search results. For Keyword searching to be most useful in many databases, you should combine several words or phrases linked together or combined with AND, OR, or NOT. These are used to specify the relationships among the keywords. Using AND, OR, and NOT with Keyword searching will limit the number of results retrieved and will allow you to control or focus the search results to the specific information that you are looking for. There are also other types of searches you can do, such as Within, Field Searching, and Truncation.


Keyword Search Examples:



Command Results
janson history of art Locates all records that have "Janson," "History," "Of," and "Art," in any order
janson "history of art" Locates all records that have "Janson" and "History of Art" in them



The catalog, and many other databases, still require that you use AND. Some databases will not require this, and if you put in a few terms, they will assume that you want AND inbetween all the terms. Check the appropriate help screens in the database to try to determine this, or try out a few searches to see what works. In the catalog, the AND operator allows you to search for records which have both search terms in them. This will enable you to combine specific information with general information. For example, if you are searching for H.W. Janson's textbook, History of Art, you can combine author and title words, so your search will be more focused and more precise.

Keyword Search Examples:



Command Results
Janson AND History of Art Locates all records with BOTH "Janson" and "History of Art" in them.




"OR" will locate each term or phrase and return every record that contains any or all of the terms included in the search. This is most useful for capturing similar terms or terms that have changed over time. For example, the terms for what we now refer to as universal design or accessibility have changed greatly over time, and if you wanted to try to access those older records, you might want to try to combine those terms using or.

Keyword Search Example:

Command Results
accessibility OR universal design OR handicapped Locates all records which have EITHER "accessibility" or "universal design" or "handicapped" in them.
sustainable design OR sustainability Locates all records which have EITHER "sustainable design" or "sustainability" in them.


"NOT" allows you to exclude from your search any record which has the term or phrase following "NOT". NOT can be helpful in limiting your search to a topic which may contain common words used in different contexts. For example, the words "architecture" or "design" can be very general and may be used in many different contexts. It is important to be aware, however, that you also risk excluding relevant items.

Keyword Search Example:

Command Results
architecture NOT computer Locates all records with the term "architecture" which don't have the term "computer" in them.


The W(ithin) operator is used to indicate that one term will follow another within a given number of words. Word order is important when using this operator, unlike the N(ear) operator. It requires the second term to appear after the first term, and you should only use it if you a sure that the second word should follow the first.

Keyword Search Example:

Search 1: adventures of huckleberry finn
Search 2: adventures W2 finn

The first search would take longer because it is searching for four terms in the title rather than just for "adventures" and "finn" as in the second search.

Nesting Search Terms

Nesting allows you to set priorities for how the searching operations are done. When nesting is used, operations will be performed in the following order:

individual terms within parentheses
proximity operators N(ear) or W(ithin)
terms nested within parentheses

Working from left to right, the program first searches the catalog for the individual terms, stopping to combine any terms separated by a proximity operator (N or W). The program then combines any of the terms entered within parentheses. Finally, the program performs Boolean operations, starting with all terms or phrases separated by the operators AND, NOT, and finally OR.

Compare the two forms of searching; the first without nesting and the second with nesting.

Search 1:architecture NOT computer OR microprocessor

  1. Find all records with "architecture" in them.
  2. Go through that subset and weed out those records with "computer."
  3. Add all records with "microprocessor" in them to the first weeded subset.

Search 2: architecture NOT (computer OR microprocessor)

  1. Find all records with "architecture" in them.
  2. Weed out all those records with "architecture" which have EITHER the term "computer" or "microprocessor" in them.

Field Searching

You may search within specific fields in a record (for example, author or title) by preceding your search word with a two-letter qualifier from the list below. This kind of search is very useful for books with very common or generic titles ("History of Art," "History of Graphic Design").

au author
ti title
pu publisher, publication year or place of publication
se series
nt notes
su subject heading
  (remember that by using the su qualifier, you will be limiting your search to the subject heading field, and will be excluding records that contain that word in the title or other fields)

Keyword Search Examples:



Command Results
TI graphic design AND AU meggs Locates all records with BOTH "graphic design" in the title field and "Meggs" in the author field.
SU sustainable development OR SU ecological engineering Locates all records which have EITHER "sustainable development" or "ecological engineering" in the subject field.
TI graphic design NOT AU meggs Locates all records with "graphic design" in the title field which DON'T have "Meggs" in the author field.




You may broaden your search by using the $ sign to truncate your search term. This can be used to collect versions of a word: child, children, childhood. Or, you can use ? to represent a single character within a word.
Keyword Search Examples:

Command Results
sustain$ Locates all records with the following terms in them:






SU wom?n Locates all records with either women or woman in the subject field.


Exact Searching


Exact searching is not available in our catalog. I'm including it here because you may run across it in other databases. It is a much more specific way to search, and I would really recommend you use it only when you know exactly what book you are looking for.

Exact Title Searching

  • Leave off the initial article (A, The, An) and then type in the words of the title exactly as they occur

    To search for a title you select "Title," and type in the title in the box. Now, since the online catalog is a computer program, it has a few quirks you need to be aware of. You should leave off the initial article. In other words, leave off "THE", "AN", or "A" if they appear as the first word of the title. However, you then must then type in the words of the title exactly as they occur, and in the order in which they occur. So if THE, AN, or A appear anywhere else in the title, you have to type them in.

  • Punctuation in any title may make it difficult to find the title in the online catalog.

    The catalog does not generally recognize punctuation. So, if the books has a slash ("Lake/Flato," for example) or a plus sign in the title ("A+U", for example) you may need to try typing them in several different ways. Try your search with and without the punctuation.

  • If you can't find what you're looking for here are few tips:

    Try typing only the first few words of a title.

    Always keep in mind that the online catalog is a computer program: in a title search, you must spell everything correctly, and you must have all the correct words in the correct order. If you leave out an article in the middle of the title, or make a mistake with one of the smaller words; 'for' instead of 'from' or whatever, you may not find your book.

  • Check your spelling, especially names!

    It's very easy to get one or two words wrong, and then not be able to find your book. And as always, if you're sure it should be there but you can't find it, ask the library staff.


Exact Author Searching

  • You must put the last name first!

    To search for an author, select "Author" from the drop-down menu in the lower search box. Then type your author's name in the box. You must put the last name first , and then the first name and so on. Suppose you wanted to search for a book by Philip Meggs. Type in :"Meggs, Philip," or even "meggs, philip." You do not have to capitalize at all. You can also just type in the last name, "meggs." The catalog will give you a list of authors with the last name "meggs" and you can select the one you want. You may need to go through several pages of results though if you have an author with a common name.

  • Remember that this is a computer program; you must spell everything exactly right or you will not find what you are looking for.

    If you type in "meggs, phillip," with two "l"s in Philip, you may end up not getting any results, because "phillip" would put you in the wrong place in the list of results. The catalog will not direct you to the correct spelling; it's up to you to figure that out. Always try just the last name, or come to the desk and ask if the staff can help you out.

  • Also be aware that a book about an individual architect, artist, or designer will often have his or her name listed as the author.

Exact Subject Searching

Subject searches search only the L.C. Subject Headings in the record. When you're looking at the full record for any item, these are over on the right side of the page. L.C. stands for 'Library of Congress', and that means that your search must match the subject as it is listed in the Library of Congress Subject Headings books. These are the five red books at the very end of the reference section in Design; their call number is Z695.Z8 L524a. These list all the subject headings that people use when they write records for the catalog; they will not use any other subject words besides the ones in the books. L.C. Subject searches work the same way as a title search, but search the subject field of each record.

If you do decide to do a subject search directly, be sure to put last name first when you search for a person.

Let us know if you have problems finding anything; it could be there's something you're overlooking, or something we can help with.

  • The easiest way to do a subject search is to do a keyword search first, then click on the title of a book that interests you, then, on the next page, click on the subject heading that most fits what you're looking for.

    Since subject headings are so particular and only use certain words, the simplest way to do a subject search is to do a keyword search first, and look through the records until you find a book that matches what you are looking for. Then click on the title of the book, which will take you to the full record. Once you get in the full record, you'll see a box on the right side of the screen that says "Use subjects to find similar titles:" with the subjects listed underneath it. You can click on any of the subjects and the catalog will search for other records that have that same subject.


  • If you are looking for a person as a subject, type in the last name first, just like in the author search.

  • If you can't find anything under the subject you want, check in the Library of Congress Subject Headings, try a keyword search, or ask the Design Library staff for help.