Q. Search Tips

Answer

Search Tips


When searching for materials in electronic resources and databases, it's a good idea to use effective searching techniques to get the most out of your time and efforts. You don't want to waste your time gathering a bunch of irrelevant information that you can't use in your paper. Use these search strategies to help you find useful information quickly and effectively.

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Keyword Searching

Use a keyword search to search all parts of a source for the words you enter in the search box. This type of searching uses "natural language" and is one you're probably already familiar with--you simply enter words or phrases into a search box that you think are relevant to your topic.

When doing a keyword search it's a good idea to try a number of different search terms and phrases. Don't be discouraged if your initial keyword search brings back too many, too few, or irrelevant results--you'll want to try multiple keywords, synonyms for your keywords, different combinations of keywords, etc. to bring back the best results.

For example, if you are looking for information about the dangers of texting and driving you may start out with keywords like: texting, driving, distracted driving, danger, cellphones, etc.

But you'll also want to try using synonyms for keywords (e.g. cellphones = mobile phonessmartphones, iPhone, etc.) and combining keywords (e.g. texting and driving, distracted driving and danger, etc.) to get better, more thorough results.

Most Useful For:

  • Finding resources using "natural language" that describes your topic
  • Very flexible--can easily be combined with other searching techniques

Cautions:

  • May bring back too many, too few, or irrelevant results if keywords are not carefully selected
  • Users should try multiple keywords, combinations of keywords, etc. to bring back the best results

Click here for books and web resources with additional information on this topic.

 


Subject Searching

Within a database or online catalog, subject searching allows you to search by categories, which are found in the subject field of an item record. Subject terms are pre-defined and used for all items within a database or source that relate to that term.

For example, let's say you found the following article in a database:

Wilson, F. A., & Stimpson, J. P. (2010). Trends in Fatalities From Distracted Driving in the United States, 1999 to 2008. American Journal Of Public Health, 100(11), 2213-2219. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.187179

The subject terms associated with this article might include: distracted driving, cell phones & traffic accidents, traffic fatalities, etc. By searching for the subject terms supplied by the database alongside this article, you may be able to find similar articles on this topic.

Most Useful For:

  • Once you find a useful resource on your topic, subject searching allows you to find similar resources
  • Allows you to broadly search for sources on a topic

Cautions:

  • Can be difficult to use if the subject associated with a topic isn't obvious
  • Results will vary from one database to another

Check out the books and web resources listed here for additional information.

 


Boolean Operators/Searching

Boolean searching is a search technique which uses Boolean operators to help bring back search results faster and with more precision. The most common Boolean operators are AND, OR, and NOT. These are logic-based words that help search engines narrow down or broaden search results. 

  • The Boolean operator AND tells a search engine that you want to find information about two (or more) search terms.

For example, cats and dogs. This will narrow down your search results because the search engine will only bring back results that include both search terms.

  • The Boolean operator OR tells the search engine that you want to find information about either search term you've entered.

For example, cats or felines. This will broaden your search results because the search engine will bring back any results that have either search term in them.

  • The Boolean operator NOT tells the search engine that you want to find information about the first search term, but nothing about the second.

For example, cats not dogs. This will narrow down your research results because the search engine will bring back only resources about the first search term (cats), but exclude any resources that include the second search term (dogs).

Most Useful For:

  • Narrowing down or broadening your search results by connecting search terms together using logic
  • Making connections between keywords or emphasizing relationships between keywords when searching

Cautions:

  • May bring back too many, too few, or irrelevant results if keywords are not carefully selected
  • Not all databases handle Boolean operators in the same way (e.g. some support nesting, some databases support symbols like "&", etc.)

Check out the books and web resources listed here for additional information.

 


Limiters

Many databases allow users to limit their search results by certain criteria. These options are often located somewhere on the database search page or results list as drop down menus or check boxes. Some common and useful limiters include date of publication, material type, full text, and more. Here is a list of common limiters and what they mean:

  • Full Text - Select this limiter to only bring back results that are available to be read online, in their entirety. 

This limiter would be helpful to use if you need electronic access to a material now and don't have time to wait for InterLibrary Loan or cannot get to the library to use a print material.

  • Peer Reviewed (Scholarly) Journals - Select this limiter to only bring back results that are from scholarly (peer reviewed) journals. Peer reviewed journals are scholarly journals whose articles have passed through an editorial process or evaluation by experts in the field. 

This limiter would be helpful if you need scholarly articles for your paper or assignment.

  • Publication Date - Select this limiter to only bring back results published within a certain date range. 

This limiter would be helpful if you need materials that were published recently (e.g. within the last 5 years)--this is commonly necessary for research in the sciences.

  • Content Type - Select this limiter to only bring back certain types of materials (e.g. books, journal/magazine articles, book reviews, conference papers, etc.). 

This limiter would be helpful if you need to use a certain type of material in your research that you have been unable to find thus far (e.g. you need to use a book, but your results keep coming back as articles).

Most Useful For:

  • Narrowing down a large list of search results
  • Finding results based on specific criteria or needs (e.g. scholarly sources only)

Cautions:

  • Available limiters may vary from database to database
  • Using too many limiters or inapplicable limiters may bring back few or no results

Check out the books and web resources listed here for additional information.

 


Quotation Marks for Phrase Searching

Using quotation marks when searching for phrase or title will help to ensure that the results you get back in a search engine are accurate.

When you search for a phrase like corporate social responsibility the search engine will bring back any results that have those words in them. However, if you put quotation marks around the phrase, "corporate social responsibility", the search engine will only bring back results that have all those words, exactly in the order you have them. This can also be useful when you're searching for the title of a book or other resource.

Most Useful For:

  • Finding highly relevant information on a topic - users can narrow down results based on exact phrasing of keywords or topic
  • Searching for the title of a book or other resource, a person or place name, etc.

Cautions:

  • May miss relevant resources if the phrase searched for is not used in the article exactly as printed
  • Some databases automatically apply phrase searching - view online search tips for individual databases before using phrase searching

Check out the books and web resources listed here for additional information.

 


Using Reference/Work Cited Lists

Another good search tip is to let one good book or article lead you to others. Scholarly publications almost always have bibliographies or lists of works cited. These are lists of the resources the author used to write the book or article you've found. Explore these! If the original source is useful to you, works used by the author may be valuable, too.

  • Last Updated May 06, 2019
  • Views 15772
  • Answered By Jennifer Harris

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