Bare Bones Basics of Searching
EBSCO Databases

EBSCOhost is a family of many databases, including the ATLA Religion database, Old Testament Abstracts, New Testament Abstracts, Academic Search, and others. This guide focuses on generic features common to most EBSCO databsaes; all sample searches in this guide use EBSCO's Academic Search database. Once you have mastered generic features of the EBSCO databases, you may wish to see the separate ATLA tips guide to searching ATLA via EBSCO. It covers things you need to know about distinctive features of ATLA.

How to connect and login

From the library website ( you may link to databases via the title list page, the topic list page, or the dropdown menu on the library home page. If you are off campus, you must login with your DTS ID and library password. Login details.

Keyword search

Figure 110 shows a search in AcademicSearch for literature on the treatment or prevention of drug abuse in teenagers or adolescents. This search illustrates use of logical operators (and, or), truncation (*), and an implied proximity operator (in the phrase drug abuse, indicated with quotes).

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Figure 110: sample search in AcademicSearch

Assuming you are already familiar with WorldCat, note the basic similarity in the command syntax. You can see from the example that logical operators work identically in the two search engines. Note a big difference in the example above: EBSCO defaults to N5 if no operator is expressed (e.g., drug abuse would be construed as drug n5 abuse, meaning the word drug within 5 words of the word abuse, in any order), whereas WorldCat defaults to AND-ing terms. Read the following information about operators carefully.

Operator Search Example Result
and church and state And retrieves only records containing both terms
or clergy or pastor Or retrieves records containing either term
not spirit not holy Not excludes records containing the second term.
? wom?n
The question mark (?) matches any single character. Wom?n will match woman or women. 17?? will match any date in the 1700's.
* religio* The asterisk (*) truncation operator matches 0 or more final characters. So religio* will match words beginning with the letters 'religio', including religion, religious, religiosity, etc.
n[+number] spirit n2 filled N (= near) specifies maximum intervening words, any word order. The example specifies a maximum distance of TWO words (n2). It matches "Spirit filled" (ZERO words apart) as well as "filled with the Spirit" (TWO words apart). N (by itself with no number) is not interpreted as an operator; you MUST specify a number or the system will just search for the letter n. Use zero for no intervening words: n0.
w[+number] infant w0 baptism W (= within) specifies maximum intervening words, but it also specifies word order. So infant w0 baptism matches the exact phrase 'infant baptism'. Note W (no number) is not interpreted as an operator; you MUST specify a number or the system will just search for the letter w.
( . . . ) God and ( grace
or mercy )
EBSCO supports the use of parentheses to group terms, and it follows approximately the same rules of operator precedence as WorldCat (e.g., AND combining before OR, but whatever is in parentheses combining first). Parentheses may be used to group terms together into sets and subsets. Logical operators may NOT be combined with proximity operators. For example, you cannot search for: >>pray* n4 (group* or meeting*)
two or more words with no operator specified new age No operator specified, so defaults to n5 operator. So >> new age is identical to >> new n5 age.
double quotation marks ( " ) "new age" Double quotation marks indicate an exact phrase like w0. They also indicate the quoted words should be treated as search terms, not operators.

Finally, note how EBSCO counts the distance differently when proximity operators are used. Here is an example with "Filled" as the first target word and "Spirit" as the last:

target phrase Filled with the Spirit
matches w2 in EBSCO 0 1 2

Expect to see this kind of variation in how different search engines count distance. You will probably not remember exactly what rule a given search engine follows, and you don't need to remember a little detail like that. Just always use the greater number whatever search engine you are using.

Search Options and Search Limits

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Figure 150: Search Options and Limits

These sections of the screen allow you to limit (narrow, restrict) results by language, date of publication, etc. For the most part the options work as you would expect. The "Apply related words" option automatically supplies synonyms for the search terms you enter. It only works with a small number of synonyms. TV and television is one example. If you enter a singular form, it will guess at a plural form and OR the plural to the singular. This can be useful but be aware it does not understand irregular inflection forms (I am vs you are; one goose but two geese; etc.)

Some options are very misleading. Notice there are full-text options in both the Search Options and the Search Limits portions of the screen. In the "Search Options" portion of the screen, "Also search within the full-text of the articles" means search all the words of the articles, not just bibliographic fields like title, subject, etc. This is only available for articles that are stored at the EBSCO website and available for online display. It does not include articles stored at a publisher's website. It does not include articles that are not available online. So this option delivers much less than you would expect. Still, if you find nothing with a regular search, try this option. In the "Limit Your Results" portion of the screen "Full text" means retrieve only articles that are stored at the EBSCO website and available for online display. Again, this does not include articles stored at a publisher's website, etc.

Once you perform a search with limits in place, the limits will remain until you remove them or begin a new search session. Pressing the "Clear" button near the search terms will not remove the limits; pressing the "Reset" button in the limits box will remove the limits.


Pick the "Indexes" menu button to browse author, subject, etc. To browse a person's name, enter last name first. To browse Bible passages, see the special discussion below.

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Figure 200: Pick Indexes to browse

In EBSCO databases, browsing displays a sorted list of headings (like Fig 220 below), but it does not allow you to click a heading and immediately fetch records of interest. Instead, you must check off the headings of interest (Fig 230) and click an "Add" button to add those terms to the normal search box. Then you must click "Search" button to actually execute a search using those headings (Fig 240).

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Figure 210: pick Indexes and then browse

Figure 210 shows picking the Index and entering the browse terms. Figure 220 shows the result when you click Browse.

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Figure 220: Browse result

Check all the headings of interest and click "Add" to insert all of those headings as search terms in the search box. See Figure 230 and 240.

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Figure 230: Check terms to search

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Figure 240: Terms inserted in search box

Finally, click search to execute the search.

Many EBSCO databases use proprietary subject lists. ATLA, for example, uses its own subject headings and name authorities. Usually the terminology is similar to Library of Congress conventions. But there are many differences. For example, LC uses >>Calvin, Jean, 1509-1564 but AcademicSearch and ATLA both use >>Calvin, John. Do not assume all databases use LC terminology. Do assume most databases have been strongly influenced by LC terminology.

Figure 250: Headings, not subject!

Some indexes, like author and subject, appear in every database. But they don't always mean the same thing.

For example, in AcademicSearch the subject index does not include everything you would think of as a subject. It does not include personal names (like calvin) and it does not include bible passages. In AcademicSearch the "Headings" index includes everything. Note that is the index we used for the Calvin browse above. It is also the index we use for the Bible passage browse below.

In ATLA Religion database, however, the subject index does include everything you would think of as a subject, and there is no index called "Headings."

You do not need to memorize such differences between databases. Just remember this one thing: if you are browsing a particular index in an EBSCO database and what you are looking for does not appear, then try a different index.

Figure 260: Browse BIBLE

Note the form of entry for a Bible passage in AcademicSearch is >>Bible. N.T. John The punctuation is necessary when you browse. Since LC dropped the "NT" part in 2008, EBSCO will probably follow suit.

Displaying full-text articles online

Some of the articles are available online. If an article is available online as part of the database you are searching, and is stored at the EBSCO website, then there is a clickable link that says "PDF full-text" or "HTML full-text". HTML documents usually lack page numbers and usually convert footnotes to endnotes. Bad. Use pdf. It preserves page numbers, footnotes, exotic fonts, charts, etc.

If the link says "Linked Full Text," that means the article is available online from another EBSCO database or from an ejournal we subscribe to through EBSCO. It could be pdf or html.

Figure 300: Variations in full text links

If some of the articles in the journal are available online, but they are stored at a publisher's site or some other non-EBSCO location, then there is a clickable link that says "Check full text". That means the article may be available online if you click the link. Some articles in that journal are available online and this may be one of them. The link will take you via an openURL resolver to a listing of what is available and where. When you follow that link, you may have to search again for the specific article in another database. So you need to know the author and title and journal volume and year. It is hard to remember all that. So when you follow the "Check full text" link, it is wise to right click the link and pick "Open in a New Tab". That way the database you are searching is in one tab of your browser and the new window in another. You can read rather than remember the citation.

Other features

This brief intro should be enough to get you started with EBSCO databases, but there is more to learn. The Zotero guide will show you how to download citations from EBSCO and import them. When you have time, see additional EBSCO documentation for information on stopwords and field codes. And take the time to read about other features. For example, it is possible to store a search statement that will automatically execute once a month and email results to you. This is a great way to stay current on a topic of continuing interest.