Keyword Searching Tips: Taking Control of Your Searches.
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Keyword Searching Tips: Taking Control of Your Searches
About Keyword Searching There are a couple of important things to remember about keyword searching. You may have heard these before, but they’re good to keep in mind as you search. 1.Keyword searching usually looks “everywhere” for your search terms, including author names, summaries and sometimes even full text of an article (book, website, etc.) 2.Keyword searching by default is kind of stupid (unless we help it out) Here’s an example…
Potential Problems Say you are researching cats, as in : A basic keyword search on “cats” would probably give you some results that would actually be about : But if some author’s last name was “Cats”, you’d also get whatever articles he wrote, even though they may be about new socket gears or something else unrelated to:
Potential Problems And what about: Reviews of “Cats: the musical”? Excerpts from the book “Cat’s Cradle?” Or writers using the word just once in an article in a saying or cliché: “The cat’s out of the bag: Apple introduced its new iPad today at…” All of this could come up when just keyword searching on “cats” Keyword searching often ignores context
The good news about keyword searching This should not convince you that keyword searching is never worth your while. It is often a preferred strategy in when: –Searching on very specific terminology –Searching the full-text of documents –Very broad searches –Building complex search strings
Strategies - Brainstorming Even the most experienced searcher needs to remember the first step of keyword searching is brainstorming good search terms. First, it’s important to think about what terms are most specific to the concepts you are researching: Example: what might get you the most specific results? Searching on… “Substance abuse” …or… “Drug abuse ” …or… “Alcohol abuse ” …or… “Alcoholism”
Strategies - Brainstorming Second, it’s important to be aware of possible synonyms for your search terms. For example, some articles might use the word “cats” and some might use the word “felines” – so you may have to search with both. Example: if you are researching “social change” – what other terms might authors use in their articles to describe this concept? Maybe: “Social structures” “Advocacy” “Political activism” “Community organizing” “Social movements”
Building search strings There are also strategies for putting your search terms in context and building specific search strings. One is using quotation marks for phrases. For example, a search on right to choose without any indication to search for that specific phrase would return articles that contain the words right and choose anywhere in the text. You could get articles on any topic, not just articles on pro- choice issues. However, searching on “right to choose” will only return results with those three words together in a phrase and therefore make it more likely you will get results on the topic intended.
More on quotation marks You may notice that some search engines (like Google) may automatically phrase search without quote marks – however, not every database has this automatic feature. If you are getting vague results, make sure to put in quote marks around your phrases just in case.
Strategies – truncation You may also want to try truncation techniques – this is where you can insert symbols in place of letters in your search words. For example, maybe you want to include a search term that covers the political side of your topic. However, you can’t decide whether to use political or politics or even politicians – you really want articles with any of those words.
Strategies – truncation The solution: in many searches you can truncate a word with a symbol – usually * (asterix/star). In the example above, you could search on politic* and this would return results with the words “political”, “politics” and “politicians”. Truncating this tells the search “give me any words that begin with these letters, and it doesn’t matter how the word ends”. “*” is a most common symbol used by many searches, but check the “Help” for each database you use to see if other symbols are also used for truncation.
Building complex strings The last strategy for keyword searching is to combine your terms to make very specific search strings. You can use the Boolean operators and parentheses to add context to your searches and get more specific results For more information on how the Boolean operators (AND, OR and NOT) work in searches, please see our separate tutorials on this topic.
Examples of complex strings Researching the question “is declawing cats humane”? Try this search string: cats AND declaw* AND humane –Using AND makes a more specific search –Using * returns articles that talk about both declawING as well as declawED cats
Examples of complex strings Researching gender issues in the movies? Try: gender AND (movies OR film OR cinema) –Using parentheses can group parts of your search together. This search is saying “give me articles that contain both the word “gender” and one other word” – and inside the parentheses we can put more instructions on what that “other word” should be –Using OR broadens a search – it says “any option in this list is OK” –This search will return results such as “Gender in the movies” and “Film is blind to gender” and “American cinema and gender culture” etc.
Examples of complex strings You can make searches even more complex Researching women’s gender issues in the movie business outside of X-rated genres? You might try: (Gender OR wom*n) AND (movies OR film) NOT “adult film”
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