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Fall 2022 Library Service Updates

Database Search Tips: Stop words

What to look for

Stop words are frequently occurring, insignificant words that appear in a database record, article or web page.

Common stop words include:

  • a
  • an
  • the
  • in
  • of
  • on
  • are
  • be
  • if
  • into
  • which

About stop words

Why should you care about stop words?

  • Many databases ignore common words from your search statement.  If included, the database returns far too many results.
  • So you know which words to exclude from your search statement.
  • To make sure they are included if they are a significant part of your search.
  • Many databases recognize common stop words when they are part of the controlled vocabulary of subject headings and descriptors.  Example: balance of payments
  • Stop words vary by database. Check the Help screens for a list.

How can you avoid using stop words in your search?

  • In some databases, you can use techniques to include stop words as part of the search.
  • Some databases use quotes around stop words.  Example: Title keyword= out "of" africa retrieves title: Out of Africa
  • Choose the most significant words that describe your topic and connect them together using Boolean operators or proximity operators.
  • Search for your terms in specific fields, such as author, title or subject/descriptor.

This guide was adapted from the MIT Libraries Database Search Tips guide with permission under a Creative Commons CC BY-NC license

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