Online Research Best Practices – Database Search
Online library databases may allow instant access to just about any subject you could need for your research, but when a simple keyword search turns up more than a hundred thousand results…too much information can be a bad thing. Who has the time to slog through that much data to find relevant resource material? Let’s look at several ways to focus our database search resulting in less wasted time and more useful information.
• Reduce search results by narrowing your topic. You can do this by adding search terms that are related to your research question. Be sure to use the thesaurus or subject terms for ideas on keywords – see bullet below on using a thesaurus.
• Record your keywords: keep a list of the keywords and combinations of keywords you’ve searched, adding new words you’ve noticed in search results.
• Boolean Operators: Databases typically use Boolean operators (AND, OR and NOT) to assist in a search. Boolean operators allow one to connect search terms in order to narrow and expand search results. See the tutorial on Boolean Operators – Boolean Tutorial
- “OR” always broadens a search. “Communism OR Socialism” finds articles that discuss either Communism OR Socialism.
- “AND” always narrows a search. “Communism AND Socialism” finds articles that compare Communism and Socialism.
- “NOT” always excludes records with the specified term. “Communism NOT Socialism” finds articles that include Communism and exclude Socialism.
• Truncation and Phrase search: Truncation allows a search for many forms of a word by adding a symbol (typically an asterisk) to a root word. For example: pollut* could result in pollute, polluted, pollutes and pollution. Putting quotation marks around a search phrase allows you to define how you want the words to appear in the search results with no other words in between.
• Many library databases contain a thesaurus or list of subject terms (aka in library land as controlled vocabulary) to help you identify search terms to use in your searching. This helps make your searching more precise and can help generate other ideas for your research.
• Search limits: Databases offer various search limits to help limit search results. Most common are:
- full text limit
- scholarly/peer review limit
- publication date limit
- publication type
These search strategies are typically built-in to online library databases to facilitate efficient research, so try them out! You don’t have time to waste.