Learn how to search for information the smart way Choose your own adventure!
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Learn how to search for information the smart way Choose your own adventure!
What do you want to find out about? How to construct a good search strategy How to use field searching Learn more about advanced searching techniques
Below are 3 key tips to searching effectively 1)Find out more about how to think conceptually 2)Find out how to put a search together using AND, OR 3) Find out how to use truncation and wildcards
Thinking Conceptually You want to find journal articles for a project you are researching: “The way grasslands are managed and the impact it has on butterfly diversity”. What do you do next? 1)Put all of the keywords into a database and do a search. 2)Break your search down into concepts.
Your ideas for keywords are – Grassland management, Butterfly, Diversity. Are there any other factors you need to think about? 1. No, I think I’ll find all the information I need searching this way 2.Maybe I ought to think a bit more about my keywords You have decided to put all the keywords into a database and then see what the database finds
When you are searching for information using a database you need to think about all of the keywords you might use and how to put these together. For example, you may fail to find many useful articles because you only searched on the words grassland management and the author(s) used other words such as crop management or grazing systems. Go back and have a look at how to break down your search and how to use AND, OR. START AGAIN
You are right to stop and think about your keywords. When you use academic databases such as Web of Science, you need to think about synonyms for your keywords and alternative spellings. The keywords you use make a big difference to the information you retrieve. Go back and have a look at using AND and OR and how to break down your search into concepts. START AGAIN
“grassland management and butterfly diversity” The main keywords for your topic might include: Grassland Management Butterfly Diversity However, if we are going to do a good search you need to think about alternative words or synonyms for the keywords you have chosen. Remember, the words used to describe a concept will vary and if you do not use as many alternatives as you can you might miss out on some very important articles.
The next stage is to make a list of keywords and synonyms, e.g. Grassland Management Butterfly Diversity Grassland Lepidoptera Biodiversity Crop Management Species Richness Grazing System Species Diversity Are there any other factors you need to think about? 1)No, I think I’ll find all the information I need 2) Not sure, tell me more
Although you’ve got a good list of search terms you still need to think about how you are going to put your search together using AND and OR. You also need to think about truncation and wildcards. All of these factors make a difference to the information you retrieve. START AGAIN
You are right to be cautious. The next important stage is to think about how you are going to put your keywords together using AND and OR. You also need to think about truncation and wildcards. The way you put a search together and the search features you use, will make a difference to the information you retrieve and will save you time. START AGAIN
An important part of searching is knowing how to put your keywords together. If you had to do a search on - “the way grasslands are managed and the impact it has on butterfly diversity” would you – 1)Type in a sentence 2)Enter keywords using AND, OR
Remember, computers do not understand human language, they can only match the words you put in with words in the database. Rather than typing in a sentence to tell the database or search engine what you want to search for use AND and OR to connect keywords. START AGAIN
This is a very good choice. Computers don’t understand human language, they only recognise words. In order to connect and define the relationship between the words use AND, OR (sometimes referred to as Boolean Operators). A good search on this topic using AND and OR would be: (grassland management OR crop management OR grazing system) and (butterfly OR lepidoptera) and (diversity OR biodiversity OR species richness OR species diversity) This search will find synonyms with OR while simultaneously narrowing down the search using AND. Notice how the OR terms are in brackets and how each main concept is joined together with AND.
Please note some databases and search engines use other symbols, such as + for AND. Always check the help pages for more information. START AGAIN
You can add flexibility to your search by using Truncation and Wildcards. What do you want to find out about? 1) The use of truncation 2) The use of wildcards
Truncation is a useful way to search for all variations of a word ending. For example, Comput* will find computer, computing, computerize, computation, computerization. Truncation symbols vary from database to database so always check the help. Common symbols used are *, $, #. In our search example you could add flexibility to your search by adding a truncation symbol to the end of butterfl* to search for butterfly or butterflies. START AGAIN
Using a wildcard is a useful way to find words with variations on a single letter anywhere in a word. The symbol used for a wildcard may vary from database to database, but a ? is often used. For example, you can search for wom?n and the database will retrieve woman and women. Once again, this will save you time and adds flexibility to your search. START AGAIN
Field searching is one of the most effective techniques for narrowing down a search. Databases and search engines usually offer searching in specific fields such as author, title, URL (web address) and Domain (for websites;.uk for the United Kingdom;.ac or.edu for educational institutions; or.gov for governmental sites. These searches will help you to retrieve less information with more precision. EXAMPLE: title:“global warming” This search would return pages that have the phrase “global warming” in the title.
If you are searching for information from a particular kind of site, e.g. an educational site, you may want to limit your search to an educational domain. EXAMPLE: domain:.ac AND title:“global warming” will limit your search to educational sites on global warming in the title. When would you use field searching? 1)When you are doing a large project and want to do a review of the literature. 2)When you are doing some research for a small course work project
When you are embarking on a large project and you want to find out what has been written and published on your topic it is better to do a more general search rather than limiting your search at this stage. If you limit your search too early on in the research stage you will miss important literature. START AGAIN
This is a good choice. If you have a very specific topic and you only need a relatively small number of sources then field searching is useful. Use field searching for small course work projects, problem solving activities, seminar papers. START AGAIN
Using Advanced Searching techniques can help you to be very specific and limit your search to very narrow parameters. What do you want to find out about? 1)Thesaurus Searching 2)Limiting your search
Using the words in a thesaurus will help you find all the articles on that topic. Some databases will automatically map your search word(s) to a recognised term and will list narrower or specific terms under subheadings; in others you will need to browse or search the thesaurus. A thesaurus can give you great assistance with your choice of keywords and is worth making use of, if it exists. START AGAIN Some databases offer thesaurus, subject, or MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) searches. A thesaurus is the official subject vocabulary of the database.
Most databases offer a range of limits, which will help you to narrow down your search. The limits on offer will vary from database to database, but common limits are – Language – to retrieve material written in a particular language e.g. English Dates – to retrieve material published with a selected date range. Useful if you want to limit your search to recently published material.
Document Type – to retrieve particular types of material, e.g. review articles, book chapters, theatre reviews, etc. Groups – some databases let you restrict you search to a particular group or type. For example, you can restrict your search by age group. START AGAIN