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Research Tips: Searching

Tips from topic selection to evaluating sources to aid in the research process

Strategic Searching

When researching, consider the following:

Information Creation as a Process: Information in any format is produced to convey a message and is shared via a selected delivery method. The iterative processes of researching, creating, revising, and disseminating information vary, and the resulting product reflects these differences. 

Research as Inquiry: Research is iterative and depends upon asking increasingly complex or new questions whose answers in turn develop additional questions or lines of inquiry in any field.

Searching as Strategic Exploration: Searching for information is often nonlinear and iterative, requiring the evaluation of a range of information sources and the mental flexibility to pursue alternate avenues as new understanding develops. 

Keywords and Indexing Terms

In order to get the most relevant articles from the library databases, take advantage of the indexing terms that sort all the articles into subject categories. Start your search with some keywords that would show up in your perfect article. Look at one that is on topic for you and hit the hyperlink to a subject category.

Here is the Search Terms Brainstorming Worksheet to get you started!

Below are some tips to aid in your search:

1. Identify the key words in your topic and brainstorm a list of synonyms to increase your chances of finding relevant information.

2. Use the different field boxes in the search tools to maximize finding information (title, keyword, etc.)

3. Use the limiters in the database

  • Date Range
  • Material Type
  • Peer-Reviewed
  • Full Text

Connectors (Boolean Operators)

Boolean operators sit between the boxes in the database search boxes. But, you can manually enter them in a general search (outside of Advanced Search options in the databases or in any search engine e.g. Google). 

AND is the default. All search result articles will contain both keywords. For example, a search that looks like: lions AND wildlife will show results that contain both "lion" and "wildlife" keywords.

The OR operator will search for any article that contains at least one of the keywords. For example, a search that looks like: lions OR wildlife will show results that contain either "lions" or "wildlife" keywords.

The NOT operator will exclude the keyword(s). For example, a search that looks like: lions NOT tigers will show results that exclude the keyword "tigers."

Scholarly Resources

What are Scholarly Resources? - These are sources written by academics and experts in their related fields. 

Many scholarly resources are Peer Reviewed which means that before they are published, the source is reviewed by multiple scholars in the same field as the author. This adds credibility and authority to the work. 

Special Characters

In addition to the AND, OR, and NOT Boolean Operators, there are other tricks you can use in your search strategy. These are quotations, truncation, and wild cards.

If you have multiple keywords that connect as a phrase, you can place them within quotation marks for database or internet browser search engines recognize them together. This means that the search will return any results where the two keywords (now a phrase) are together. For example, the word cub can refer to many different mammal offspring. By using "lion cub" in quotations as a phrase, your search will only return results that include lion cubs. 

Sometimes it can be tricky to catch all variations of a word in your search. In order to help you cast a wider net, you can use truncation. By placing an asterisk (*) at the end of a keyword in place of other letters, your keyword may now catch other forms and tenses of your original keyword. For example, if you were researching adolescents and wanted to use the synonym "teens," it might be smart to type: teen*. This search will capture related keywords such as teens, teenage, teenager, teenagers, and teenaged.

However, sometimes we aren't sure how to capture multiple forms of a keyword or even know what they might be, especially if a specific format is no longer in current use. This is where a wild card comes into play. If you know there is a common letter that is replaced for different spellings of a keyword, you can replace it with a question mark (?) or an asterisk (*). Some databases and search engines prefer the question mark or asterisk. For example, if you were researching women from a social perspective, you may want to use: wom?n. This search will capture related variations such as women, woman, womxn, and womyn.