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Getting Started with Research at Shapiro Library

This guide discusses understanding information sources, formulating a topic and search phrase, where and how to search the library for information, how to evaluate sources, how to cite sources, and more.

Effective Searching Techniques

Boolean Operators/Boolean 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).

As with any search strategy, you may want to consider what Boolean operators/searching is most useful for and anything you should be cautious about when using this searching technique:

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.)

The library has many books and ebooks in our collection which can help answer your questions about boolean operators/searching. Check out the sample books and web resources listed HERE for additional information or watch the video below:

Still Need Help? Ask a Librarian!

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 Health100(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.

As with any search strategy, you may want to consider what subject searching is most useful for and anything you should be cautious about when using this searching technique:

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

The library has many books and ebooks in our collection which can help answer your questions about subject searching. Check out the sample books and web resources listed HERE for additional information.

Still Need Help? Ask a Librarian!

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.

Scholarly (Peer Reviewed) 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.

Material/Publication 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).

As with any search strategy, you may want to consider what limiters are most useful for and anything you should be cautious about when using this searching technique:

Most Useful For:
  • Allows users to narrow down search results by various criteria (e.g. scholarly sources only)
  • Allows users to find results based on very specific criteria (e.g. date of publication)
Cautions:
  • Available limiters may vary from database to database
  • Using too many limiters or poorly chosen limiters may bring back few or no results

The library has several books and ebooks in our collection which can help answer your questions about using limiters. Check out the books and web resources listed HERE for additional information.

Still Need Help? Ask a Librarian!

Quotation Marks for Phrase Searching

Using quotation marks for phrase searching 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 in them exactly in the order you have them printed. This can also be useful when you're searching for the title of a book or other resource.

As with any search strategy, you may want to consider what quotation marks are most useful for and anything you should be cautious about when using this searching technique:

Most Useful For:
  • Finding highly relevant information on a topic--allows users to 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

The library has several books and ebooks in our collection which can help answer your questions about phrase searching. Check out the books and web resources listed HERE for additional information.

Still Need Help? Ask a Librarian!

More Resources

The library has several books and ebooks in our collection which can help answer your questions about effective searching techniques. Check out the books and web resources below for additional information.

Helpful Books from the Library:

The Oxford Guide to Library Research Book Cover

The Oxford Guide to Library Research by Thomas Mann
Call Number: REF Z710 .M23 2005
ISBN: 9780195189971
Publication Date: 2005-11-01

The Creative Guide to Research Book Cover

The Creative Guide to Research by Robin Rowland
Call Number: [electronic resource]
ISBN: 9781564144423
Publication Date: 2000-07-01

Librarian's Guide to Online Searching Book Cover

Librarian's Guide to Online Searching by Suzanne S. Bell
Call Number: ZA4460 .B45 2006
ISBN: 9781591583264
Publication Date: 2006-08-01

To find more books and ebooks on effective searching techniques, please search the Online Library Catalog.

These web resources may be helpful if you need help using effective searching techniques. However, be sure to evaluate any sources you use--the Shapiro Library cannot vouch for the accuracy of information provided on external websites.

Still Need Help? Ask a Librarian!

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