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SOCY U302 - Sociological Research Methods - Dr. Zack: Search Strategies

Fall 2018

Records! Video

What do your search terms match up against in a keyword search? Why is searching the library catalog or an article database different than searching Google?

Boolean and Beyond! Strategies for Improving Keyword Searches

Covers a number of search techniques that improve your keyword searching, starting with the connectors And, Or, and Not, which most databases are programmed to recognize.

Creating Search Terms and Phrases

These search strategies were introduced in English 101 and work well in the library catalog and most databases. Some may also work with internet search engines. Google accepts phrases in quotes, for example. The logic of the Boolean connectors also underlies the choices in Google's Advanced Search.

Boolean logic - use AND, OR, NOT (sometimes AND NOT) to connect two or more search terms:

  • AND finds all records with all of your search terms and narrows your search
  • OR finds all records with one or more of your search terms and broadens your search
  • NOT or AND NOT is used to exclude the following term and can help to focus a search where one term has different meanings or uses (e.g., Mexico NOT "New Mexico")

Phrases in Quotes - most databases and web search engines allow you to search for exact phrases by placing them in quotes:

  • "carbon footprint"

Truncation - the library catalog and most databases use special characters to make searching easier in certain situations. Check the help screens in the catalog or database you are using to see what the special characters are for that resource.

  • the asterisk * is often used to stand for mutliple endings on a word (singular, plural, etc.): vot* finds vote, voter, voters
  • wildcards are similar, but replace another character in a word: wom?n in the library catalog finds both woman and women

Nesting - use parentheses to sort out the elements of a more complex Boolean search phrase, especially when you may want to search for more than one related term for one element of your phrase:

  • (carbon OR ecological) AND footprint
  • ("hip hop" OR rap) AND culture


Subject Headings and Subject Terms

The library catalog and most subscription databases have a wonderful tool for finding the most relevant books and articles for your topic. Subject Headings in the library catalog and Subject Terms (sometimes called descriptors) in databases are terms describing the subject of an item that are chosen from a pre-existing list when a book is cataloged for the library or an article indexed for a database. This means that someone has actually examined the book or article and chosen one or more standard subject headings or terms that best describe it. And that makes subject headings and terms a very good way to find additonal books and articles on your topic--including those likely to be most relevant. In the library catalog, subject headings are found in the record of a book or video (just click on the title in the results list) and are hyperlinked to lead you to other items sharing that heading. In article databases, subject terms from articles in the results list are often collected in a Subject or Subject Thesaurus Terms category on the left or right side of the results. You can usually select one or more terms and update your results.