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Composition I Research Guide for ENGL 101: Search Strategies

Spring 2019

Search Strategies

Searching efficiently and effectively is more than just putting words in a search box. It is understanding the kind of resource you are searching, how it is constructed and programmed to interpret your search terms, and how you might get the most out of it. The materials on this tab give you information on how to improve your searching.

Records! Why Searching a Database is Different Than Searching Google

What do your search terms match up against? How will knowing that affect the strategy you use when searching a database as opposed to Google?

Boolean Visual.

What Are You Searching?

When you enter terms into a search box in an internet search engine, the library catalog, or a subscription database, you may actually be searching one or more of the following:

  • Metadata - "data about data" describes the information source, be it a web page or book. On the web and in some other contexts, this description may be invisible.
  • Full Text - On the Web, you often search the full text of a web page or a portion of a web page by default. Some databases also give an option to search the full text of database content.
  • Records of Items - Library catalogs and article databases are made up of bibliographic records. Each record describes an individual item, such as a book or an article. Each record has a number of searchable fields that may include things like:
  1. Author
  2. Title
  3. Publisher
  4. Date
  5. Subject
  • When you search in the library catalog or a database, your search terms are compared to the various fields of a record. You can sometimes refine your search by limiting to a particular field, as in the Advanced Keyword Search in the Library Catalog.

Smarter Searching.

Understanding what you are searching helps you become a smart searcher. Using Boolean Logic allows you to "talk to the computer" and get the results you want! So what is Boolean Logic, anyway?

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:

  • "snapchat" or "online dating"

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:

  • (internet OR snapchat) AND privacy
  • ("online dating" OR tinder) AND success

Please see the video below for more detailed information: