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Hort 418/518

A research guide for Hort 418/518

Getting Started Using Scholarly Databases

This page will assist you with locating research resources within scholarly databases (e.g. databases with peer-reviewed research). There are a few steps that you will need to utilize. They are all detailed on this page. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Creating Keywords from Your Research Question

Our goal is to turn our research area, or research question, into usable keywords that we can search within a scholarly database.


For example, let's say we're interested in exploring either of these two topics:

Topic one: “Changes in grape composition after the harvest, before processing”

Topic two: “Quality of a fruit or vegetable as a function of maturity”


How do we turn that topic idea into usable research?


  • Scholarly databases assume that the researcher knows what they're doing, so they put the responsibility of creating keywords and spelling on you.


Step 1: What words will you put into the database search?

My first task is to pull the keywords that I want to search out of this statement (if we just search the entire statement we'll get a bunch of useless results). I really just want to pull out my variables (e.g. what do I want to study?).

So, what do I want to study:

Topic One: “Changes in grape composition after the harvest, before processing”

What I want to study is: Grapes, change in composition, post-harvest (but before processing)


Topic two: “Quality of a fruit or vegetable as a function of maturity”

What I want to study is: Fruit or vegetable, its quality, as a function maturity 


Step 2: Are there synonyms, plurals, and other concepts we should also search?


  • The database search is only as good as the terms that you provide.
  • I don't want to miss valuable research because I'm not framing the topic in the same way another researcher might. So I'm going to look for all of the similar concepts and synonyms that a researcher might use.
  • If you are studying a plant, it may be helpful to find alternative names. 


Our keywords could (potentially) be:

Topic One: “Changes in grape composition after the harvest, before processing”

Keywords: grapes. grapevine, changes, differences, developments, post-harvest, after harvest, post harvest, before processing, pre-processing, preprocessing

Topic two: “Quality of a fruit or vegetable as a function of maturity”

Keywords: Quality, aspects, traits, fruit, vegetables, maturity (if we wanted we could also add some specific fruits and vegetable names)



  • Sometimes, our list of synonyms can be quite long, for example climate change could be: Global warming, climate crises, greenhouse effect, weather instability, etc.
  • Pay attention to keywords which might be plural (such as grape/grapes).


Step 3: Let's create a search string (so we don't have to do multiple searches)

See box below for info regarding creating search strings and utilizing Boolean Operators.

Search Strings & Boolean Operatros

Most databases will have a drop-down menu that lists three Boolean Operators, AND, OR, NOT.

These Boolean Operators will allow you to create quick and powerful search statements.


  • You can add a search bar for each keywords or you can also manually write the Boolean Operators in the search bar yourself (see this picture for more detail).
  • My personal search preference is to keep my concepts/variables grouped together and write in the Boolean Operators. For example, my first line might just be keywords representing grapes, my second line might be just keywords representing post-harvest, etc. In practice, this means that I write OR and use the dropdown menu for AND.
  • You limit your search results to material types (such as peer-reviewed articles or books) and data range either before or after your search.




Boolean Operators Table


Search example: grape OR vitis OR muscadine

One or both of these terms will be in your search results. OR will give us the potential for more results. The operator OR is particularly helpful when you want to broaden your search, especially when you want to include synonyms.


Search example: grape  OR vitis OR muscadine


"post harvest" 

Now our search results must have either grape or Vitis in the search results as well as post harvest 

AND will give us less results but it will make our results more useful.

AND is how you are going to search multiple concepts/variables together.


Search example: Fruit NOT apples

Narrows search results. This search would return all the results that have fruit but not apples. NOT is used to eliminate records. 


Other Database Tools

Quotation Marks ("  ")

Search example: “Washington State”

Would return the result:

The history of Washington State University

Would not return the result:

The history of Washington D.C. and Maryland.

Only returns results utilizing that exact phrase as it appears in the quotation marks.

The Wildcard (*)

Search example: grape*

Returns results:

Search example: *process*

Returns results:



Returns results:
seafood, soyfood, superfood

The * can be used anywhere in the search term to represent any characters (or no characters). It is a super easy way to conduct searches that pertain to all of the variations of a term.


Step 4: Write your search statement:

My search statement will look something like:

Topic one: “Changes in grape composition after the harvest, before processing”

Search String (could include):

grape* OR vitis OR muscadine OR muscat


change* OR difference* OR development*


"post-harvest" OR "after harvest" OR "post harvest" OR "before process*" OR "pre-process*" OR "pre process*"

This will find all of the results for: Grape, grapes, grapevine, grapevines, Vitis, Muscadine, change, changes, changed, difference, differences, development, developments, developmental. post harvest, post harvesting, post harvests, pre processed, pre processing, preprocessed, preprocessing, pre-processed, pre-processing, before harvest, before harvesting, before harvests, etc.


Topic two: “Quality of a fruit or vegetable as a function of maturity”

Search String:

qualit* OR aspect* OR trait*


fruit* OR vegetable*



This will find all of the results for: Quality, qualities, aspect, aspects, trait, traits, fruit, fruits, vegetable, vegetables, mature, maturation, matured. maturing, etc.


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