Limiters: Most databases will allow you to filter your results using facets, (sometimes called limiters or refiners. These are the options (normally located on the left side) that allow you to only display results that meet certain criteria such as peer review, full text, year of publication, etc. Using limiters can really help to cut down the number of results you get from a search.
Reference Scanning: When you find an article you like, look at the bibliography listed at the end of the article. There is a good chance that you'll find other articles that would be helpful to your research.
Identify Alternate Keywords or Subjects: Often databases will list the keywords or subject headings that are associated with the article you find. You can sometimes find this information in the abstract of the article as well.
Use appropriately professional terms; Avoid acronyms; Don’t use too many search terms: more terms = fewer results;
Boolean Operators: Use of Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) can sometimes be useful to help tie together or separate search terms. Use AND to only find articles that contain both of the keywords you're looking for, use OR to search for articles that use either one, and use NOT to eliminate a search term from your search.
Truncation and Wildcards: Using the Asterisk * after a search term tells the database to look for several variations of words. For example child* will search for Child, Children, Childhood. Wom* will search for women, woman... some databases use the ! exclamation point for the wildcard symbol.
|Language||Natural language (YOUR language)||Pre-defined "controlled" vocabulary (database language)|
|Familiarity/ease of use||Familiar & easy to use: a great way to start your research||Not always intuitive: pre-defined terms are used to describe ideas, concepts, objects, activities, classes of people, academic subjects, etc.|
|How searches work||Searches for keywords anywhere in the record: keywords are not necessarily connected in a meaningful way resulting in sources that may not be relevant||Searches for specific pre-defined terms only in the subject heading or descriptor field, limiting your results to the most relevant sources|
|Flexibility||Very flexible: can combine together in many ways||Less flexible: need to know the exact controlled vocabulary term|
|Number of results||Often yields too many or too few results||Due to its precision, it will typically give you far fewer results than a keyword search|
|Relevance||It May yield many irrelevant results||results are usually very relevant to the topic|
Try out the Boolean Machine.
Advanced Searching with Boolean operators
Using the power of "Boolean operators" in your search enriches the quality of the information you find. For example, adding "AND" allows you to narrow your search to find results with more than one search term in them. Using "OR" will broaden your search to find results with any of the search terms used. Adding "NOT" to a search removes an unwanted word from all of your results. Really advanced searches can incorporate more than one Boolean operator to make search results very specific and pertinent to your research.
community AND immigrant AND irish = The search engine will find results using ALL THREE terms
community OR subgroup OR demographics = using OR with synonyms increases the variety in your results; search results will include ANY of the terms
columbus NOT explorers = using NOT will exclude a term; this is often useful to avoid a commonly used term that is irrelevant to your research
(columbus NOT explorers) AND (women OR gender) = use parentheses to "control" mini-searches, then connect the mini-searches with AND to make a sophisticated advanced search
Wildcard Symbol: Using the asterisk (*) after part of a search term looks for several variations of the word. For example, autobiograph* will find autobiography, autobiographies, or autobiographical. (Some databases use the ! exclamation point for the wildcard symbol. Check out the help section of any library resource for a list of acceptable symbols.)
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