The library's databases are best searched using keywords rather than long sentences or phrases. It is common to use full sentences, phrases and any words that pop into mind while using a search engine like Google. It is important to note that library databases are not Google, they have their own way of searching for information. Using keywords and something called Boolean Operators are the start to coming up with successful searching strategies. First, let's talk about a few ways you can brainstorm keywords for your topic:
Identify the main concepts that make up your topic. For example, if the topic is careers in librarianship perhaps main concepts related to this could be: librarians, information literacy, public libraries, academic libraries, research, education.
Think about related and more specific terms for the concepts you identified at first. Maybe words such as children, adult learners, instructional design or others come up as you reflect on the first set of concepts you identified. Feeling stuck? Try using a thesaurus to look up synonyms or use a brainstorming strategy like mind mapping to see how the concepts in your topic are related.
Once you have your keywords identified, it's time to try some searches! You can combine the keywords in various ways to create different searches to use in the library's databases. Here are some tips to help you combine your keywords and create effective searches.
Keyword Search Tips
Use Boolean Operators such as AND, OR, and NOT. The AND tells the search engine to only bring back results that use both search terms: cats AND dogs. The OR tells the search engine to bring back results that have either search term: cats OR dogs. The NOT will exclude the word or phrase that follows it: cats NOT dogs. Using parentheses can also help, like this: cats AND (dogs OR birds).
Use quotation marks around any important phrases. If your topic is human resources, then search for the phrase like this: "human resources" so that the search engine will look for the two words next to each other in that exact order, rather than the two individual words separately in the article.
Use an asterisk (*) as a wildcard. The asterisk tells the search engine to find any variation of the word that starts with the same root. For example, if one of your keywords is biology, search for it like this: biolog*. The search engine will look for the words biology, biologic, biological, etc.
Using the keywords that were brainstormed above, here are some examples of what a good search strategy would look like:
librarian AND education AND career
librarian OR academic librarian AND information literacy
education AND "academic librarian" AND instruct*
Any of these search strategies would be good to try in a library database. In the next section of the guide, we will look at some specific databases you can use in the research for this course.