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RESEARCH ASSISTANCE: Search Tips

Searching for Books

Use the library's catalog to search for books.

You can search by author, title, keyword, subject and more.

If you find an ideal book for your research, click on the title. Scroll down and click on the subject headings and/or record the subject headings so you can use them to search the library's databases for articles using the subject headings associated with your topic.

Searching for Articles

Use the library's databases to search for articles, book reviews, dissertations, and other electronic resources.

You can search by author, title, keyword, subject and more.

If you find an ideal book for your research, click on the title. Scroll down and click on the subject headings and/or record the subject headings so you can use them to search the library's databases for articles using the subject headings associated with your topic.

Combining Search Terms

Once you have generated some keywords for your topic, it's time to string them together in a search engine.

Some library resources use natural language searching. You are probably already familiar with this technique — commercial search engines such as Google use natural language searching.

While natural language searching may be the easiest method to use, it is generally not the most accurate.

To get more precise search results, try connecting your keywords using Boolean operators. They may be familiar to you from mathematics or logic.

There are three Boolean operators:  AND, OR, and NOT.

When you connect keywords using these, it means that:
AND - ALL of your keywords must appear in the results.
OR - ONE of the keywords must appear in the results.
NOT - NONE of the keywords should be present in the results.

Combining Search Terms (cont.)

Nesting is a technique where you combine Boolean operators within parentheses ( ), like mathematical equations.

This allows you to search for multiple variations of keywords, according to the functions of the operators.

For example, you could search for the following:

  • (traditional medicine OR herbal medicine OR alternative medicine OR integrative herbalism) AND (mental health OR psychological well-being OR physical health OR wellness) AND (benefits OR outcomes OR results )

When searching for a phrase of two or more words, use quotation marks around the phrase. The results will include documents containing those words in that exact order. This can help the accuracy of your search.

When you don't put the phrase in quotations, the search will also include instances where the words appear separately, which may be irrelevant.

Full-text and Field Searching

In full-text searching, the database will look for the terms that occur anywhere in an article.

Full-text searching will usually provide the largest number of results, but many may be irrelevant.

Another option is field searching. A record in a database consists of several parts, or fields, that can be searched individually.

These fields include Title, Author, Subject, Abstract, and more.

Using field searching will narrow your search results to just the field you select.

 

Quality vs. Quantity

The uncertain quality and expanding quantity of information pose challenges.

The sheer abundance of information will not in itself create a more informed citizenry without a complementary cluster of abilities to use information effectively.

Narrowing Search Results

Another way to improve your search is by adding limits. Most databases will have a feature that allows you to limit your search by different factors.

These include:

  • Date
  • Location
  • Language
  • Peer-review
  • Methodology
  • Format
  • Subject

Choose limits by thinking about what types of sources will help you achieve your research goals and avoid irrelevant results.

Conducting a search using limits will usually lead to fewer results, but the results you retrieve will be more relevant to your specific research needs.

You can implement limits before or after searching.