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Basic and Advanced Library Research

BASIC/ADVANCED: Steps to creating search strategies

1. Identify the keywords in your research question. Keywords are words that carry content and meaning. The keywords in the research  question "What is the feeding range of the blue whale in the Pacific Ocean?" are feeding range, blue whale and Pacific Ocean.

2. Brainstorm synonyms for your keywords. Think of words similar to your keywords in case a database doesn't use your original keywords. Synonyms for blue whale are baleen whale and Balaenoptera musculus.

3. Create Boolean searches using the keywords. A Boolean search is a search using the words AND, OR and NOT between the keywords. These words have a special function when used in a database.

  •  The search [blue whale AND Pacific Ocean] will find all of the articles that contain both words. AND makes your search narrower.
  • The search [blue whale OR Balaenoptera musculus] will find all articles that contain one word, or the other, or both. OR is placed between synonyms and makes your search broader.
  • The search [blue whale NOT Atlantic Ocean] will find all articles containing "blue whale" and exclude the articles that also contain "Atlantic Ocean." NOT excludes articles that you don't want.

4. Use the truncation symbol to search for word variations.You can avoid doing multiple searches for variations on word endings using the truncation symbol * (the asterisk) in most databases.  Entering the keyword "blue whale*" will look for both blue whale and blue whales.

5. Add keywords to limit the type of article you retrieve. If you want a literature review, add "AND review" to your keywords. To find a research study, add "AND study" to your keywords.

6. Enter your Boolean searches in the Advanced Search of a database. Always go to the Advanced Search in a database to enter your Boolean searches because it gives you multiple boxes with the Boolean operators between them. If you are using a search with multiple search strings, enter OR within the search boxes and AND between the search boxes, e.g., [blue whale OR Balaenoptera musculus] AND [feeding range OR feeding grounds] AND [Pacific Ocean].

BASIC/ADVANCED: Find keyword synonyms

When you don't know synonyms for your topic keywords, you can use online dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference books to find them. You can also use Wikipedia to find a definition or synonym for a word, but don't use it as a source for your paper or project because it is not authoritative.

Keywords vs. Stopwords

Keywords are the type of words you want to use in a database or library catalog search. They actually have content and meaning and are the "key" to finding relevant articles. Examples are: organelles, photosynthesis, North America.

 

Stopwords do not have any meaning for a database and are ignored, so leave them out of your searches. Examples are: a, the, and, is, how, why, by.

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