When searching for materials in electronic resources and databases, it's a good idea to use effective searching techniques to get the most out of your time and efforts. You don't want to waste your time gathering a bunch of irrelevant information that you can't use in your paper. Use these search strategies to help you find useful information quickly and effectively.
Use a keyword search to search all parts of a source for the words you enter in the search box. This type of searching uses "natural language" and is one you're probably already familiar with--you simply enter words or phrases into a search box that you think are relevant to your topic.
When doing a keyword search it's a good idea to try a number of different search terms and phrases. Don't be discouraged if your initial keyword search brings back too many, too few, or irrelevant results--you'll want to try multiple keywords, synonyms for your keywords, different combinations of keywords, etc. to bring back the best results.
For example, if you are looking for information about the dangers of texting and driving you may start out with keywords like: texting, driving, distracted driving, danger, cellphones, etc.
But you'll also want to try using synonyms for keywords (e.g. cellphones = mobile phones, smartphones, iPhone, etc.) and combining keywords (e.g. texting and driving, distracted driving and danger, etc.) to get better, more thorough results.
For additional information on this topic check out the FAQ: How do I use a keyword search to find sources on my topic?
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 Health, 100(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.
Check out the FAQ: What is subject searching and how can I use it? for additional information.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Check out the FAQ: What is boolean searching and how can I use it? for additional information.
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:
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.
This limiter would be helpful if you need scholarly articles for your paper or assignment.
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.
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).
Check out the FAQ: What are limiters and how can I use them? for additional information.
Using quotation marks when searching for phrase or title 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, exactly in the order you have them. This can also be useful when you're searching for the title of a book or other resource.
Check out the FAQ: How can I use quotation marks for phrase searching? for additional information.
Another good search tip is to let one good book or article lead you to others. Scholarly publications almost always have bibliographies or lists of works cited. These are lists of the resources the author used to write the book or article you've found. Explore these! If the original source is useful to you, works used by the author may be valuable, too.