Effective library searches are not the same as using an internet search engine. There are a number of components to forming your library search strategy.
Take your research topic and boil it down to a one word question or statement.
Identify the keywords in your research question.
Brainstorm synonyms for your keywords
Searches using Boolean logic combine the operators AND, OR, and NOT with keywords to expand or limit the search as desired.
For the following descriptions, assume we are searching with two keywords.
AND limits searches by yielding only results that include both keywords.
OR expands searches by yielding results that contain one or both keywords.
NOT limits searches by yielding only results that contain one keyword and not the other.
Now we apply boolean logic to the two keywords from our research question. We use quotes around compound words containing spaces. We use the AND operator because we're looking for results that contain both keywords.
To expand this search to include our keyword synonyms, we group keywords between parentheses. We use the OR operator between keyword within a group because we're looking for results that contain any keyword within that group.
In guided searches, each field takes the place of the parentheses. Here, we've also added the NOT to exclude results containing that keyword.
As you conduct your searches, take note of the keywords and subjects listed in the item details of your search results. Modify your searches using these keywords that you feel are relevant to your topic. Evolving your keywords is a good thing. You may even find yourself changing your research question. This is okay! This strategy may lead you to a stronger research topic in the end.
Most databases support the use of wildcards. Wildcards are special characters that replace one or more letters in a word. Saddly, wildcard characters are not standardized across databases. However, each within each databases "help" section, there will be documentation on what wildcard characters to use.
Using wildcards allows you to search for unknown or variant spellings of keywords. In the following example we use the question mark (?) wild card from the library's WorldCat catalog to replace an unknown number of letters in order to find variant spellings.
Truncation is a type of wildcard that allows you to search for the beginning of a word. Usually you can only truncate after the third letter. Though still not standardized, most databases use the asterisk (*) to indicate truncation.
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