Forming a better search


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Forming a better search

  1. 1. Forming a Better Search Using keywords, subjects, and operators
  2. 2. Why Not Google • Popular search engines are useful for many things, but they have some drawbacks when it comes to finding academic sources. • They usually generate far too many results, making it difficult to find sources that you can actually use. • Most of the results are sources that are not reliable for academic research. • These search engines are well designed to find undisputed facts, but students are rarely asked to write papers on things that are undisputed.
  3. 3. Why You Should Use a Database • Databases such as Academic OneFile, JSTOR, and others painstakingly cultivate collections dedicated to reliable, scholarly materials. • While these databases can be a little more complicated to use, correct usage can generate much more useful results that actually save you time. • Many article databases also provide citations that make creating works cited lists easier.
  4. 4. Keyword vs Subject • One of the first things to consider, when searching an article database or even your local library catalog is “Should you do a keyword search or a subject search?” • Keyword searches are basic and include a few ‘keywords’ that might be found anywhere in an item’s description. This includes the majority of searches and is the type of search generally done on popular engines such as Google.
  5. 5. • Keyword searches are simple and fast, but sometimes pull up too many results or results that are not accurate enough. • Keyword searches can be a good starting place, especially if your topic is very specific; such as “childhood diabetes.” They can also be helpful in searches that involve more than one discipline, such as: “biology” and “psychology”. • Subject searches are powerful, but require you to choose the subject that you desire. Many database searches allow you to perform subject and/or author searches from their ‘advanced’ options.
  6. 6. • All academic database articles are labeled with ‘subject headings’ according to their content. If you can identify the appropriate subject, you can pull up every article in that database under that subject. • ‘Childhood diabetes’ would be a good choice for a subject search, as it is a broad but specific topic. It is specific and uses common words for the subject. When doing a keyword search, you might have used something like “children and diabetes”, which would pull up any articles involving both children and diabetes.
  7. 7. • Subject searches can be much more effective than keyword searches. • If you perform a keyword search and find that you receive too many results, or that the results are not on quite the correct subject; you might attempt a subject search. • One method of finding a correct subject for a subject search, is to do a keyword search and go into an article that is on the subject you want. • Most databases will show you a list of ‘subjects’ or ‘subject headings’ that you can then use for a subject search.
  8. 8. What To Avoid • Most searches are keyword searches, so we will discuss a few things that you can avoid which will improve your keyword searches. • Avoid using too many words, especially articles and one-letter words such as: a, I, am, at, the, are, by, do, is, to, you, etc. • You do not want to type a sentence for your search, you only want to identify and list the important key terms. Don’t use punctuation.
  9. 9. Identifying Terms For Your Search • When performing a search you will want to use natural language and focus on the key concepts of the search. • For instance, if your research question was “What complications arise in children with diabetes?” ‘What’, ‘arise’, ‘in’, and ‘with’ are all words that do you very little good in a search. • The key concepts are ‘childhood diabetes’ and ‘complications’, so you might search for “complications” and “childhood diabetes”.
  10. 10. Simple Operators • Another way to improve your keyword searches is to include the simple operators: AND, OR, NOT. • While not all searches allow operators, most will be able to use these three and each has a specific function. • AND will search for an item that includes both the word to its left and to its right. So instead of search complications childhood diabetes, you might search complications and childhood diabetes.
  11. 11. • OR performs a similar function by searching for an item that has either one of the terms included. It only requires one of them in order to pull up a result. • This is best used when you have two alternative words that may both yield suitable results. • For instance, in our above search ‘Complications’ may not pull up every useful article. You could do a search using: complications or problems. • This is a good strategy for words that may be too specific or have many synonyms, such as ‘complications’. If your search does not pull up many results, you may use a thesaurus to look up synonyms to some of the words involved.
  12. 12. • NOT is a useful operator for excluding a specific word. While useful, it should be used carefully. • NOT is helpful when your search results keeps pulling up articles that feature one of your terms, but is not actually on the subject that you desire. • NOT can be a complicated operator to use as it is sometimes difficult to select a word that will remove undesired results, without removing articles that you actually need.
  13. 13. Truncation • The last tool that you might use to improve your searches is called truncation. Truncation is sometimes problematic as some databases do not allow it, while others use different symbols for it; or for different results. • Truncation, at its simplest, is the use of a special symbol to replace letters in a word. This will instruct the database to find many variations of that same word.
  14. 14. • The common symbols (or wildcards) involved are: *, ?, #. • When searched Childhood diabetes, you may be concerned that childhood will rule out some results that might be useful. In this case, you can use truncation and change childhood into child* • The resulting search will find words that begin with child, such as: child, children, childhood, child’s, etc. • Truncation can be useful for finding plurals, alternative spellings for some words (such as color which is sometimes spelt colour), and for finding related concepts that have similar spellings (such as astro*: astronomy, astronomer, astrobiology, etc.)
  15. 15. Thank You • Thank you for taking the time to read through this guide. • If you have any questions, please visit the Reference Desk or email reference at for more assistance or to schedule a library instruction class with one of our reference librarians.