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Library Research Methods: More strategies

Learn how to expand or narrow searches, use nesting, phrase searching, truncation and wildcards, proximity, and more

Search Strategies

Some advanced search strategies that can save you time are:

Quotation Marks

Putting a phrase in quotes will tell the database to search for that exact phrase.

For example: "Space Shuttle Challenger"

This search will ONLY return items containing this exact phrase, and not items containing any of the words anywhere in the document.


Parenthesis

When you're using the database advanced search screens, you'll notice that some of them are already set up to search with parenthesis. When you join similar, equivalent, or related concepts with "OR" you want the database to recognize them as one broad concept.

For example: (coffee OR tea OR soda).

They are all caffeinated beverages - making them part of one overarching concept.


Truncation and Wildcards

You may be familiar with using the asterisk (*) symbol. This is the most common truncation symbol. Putting this at the end of a word stem will retrieve all the possible endings of that word.

For example: team* will retrieve team, teams, and teamwork, as well as teamsters.

Hint: Make sure you don't truncate too far, or you will get unrelated terms.

For example: cat* will retrieve cat and cats, but it will also retrieve caterpillar, catamaran, and catastrophe, to name a few!


Wildcards are a little trickier.

A Wildcard is a character that takes the place of any other character or string that is not known or specified. It is usually a exclamation point (!) or a question mark (?)

For example: a!m finds amalgam, atom and alum

wom!n finds woman or women

Note: Some of the databases use different symbols for truncation or wildcards. Check the help menu of the database you're searching to find out what symbols it uses.


Proximity

How do you search for a concept that could be expressed by different phrases?

Let's take this example: if you searched for "theories of personality," you would not retrieve documents mentioning personality theories, or theories involving personality, or theories about personality, or other similar phrases.

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to search for all of these? Proximity can help!

For example: systems n3 theory would search for systems within 3 words of theory, in any order.

nx is the proximity command where x can be a number. So, for example, systems n3 theory would search for systems within 3 words of theory, in any order.

Note: Different databases use different proximity operators. The above search can be expressed in all of these different ways - systems within 3 theory, systems ~3 theory, systems w/3 theory. Check the help menu of the database you're searching to find out what symbols it uses.

When you're using the database advanced search screens, you'll notice that some of them are already set up to search with parenthesis. When you join similar, equivalent, or related concepts with "OR" you want the database to recognize them as one broad concept.

For example: (coffee OR tea OR soda).

They are all caffeinated beverages - making them part of one overarching concept.


Nested searches

A nest is composed of synonyms or quasi-synonyms for a concept that you group together by means of Boolean OR.

For example: (dogs OR canines OR puppies)

Note that Internet search engines typically do not allow nested searches. This function only works in Library databases.

Examples of Nests

(professors OR teachers OR instructors OR faculty)

Retrieves results containing any combination of the terms:

  • professors
  • teachers
  • instructors
  • faculty
(professors OR teachers OR instructors OR faculty) AND (education OR pedagogy)

Retrieves results containing any combination of the terms:

  • professors
  • teachers
  • instructors
  • faculty

In addition, because we have added an AND, results must also contain either education or pedagogy or both.

(teachers OR faculty) AND education NOT
(P.T.A. OR "Parent Teacher Association")
Retrieves results containing either teachers or faculty or both, must also contain education but cannot contain either P.T.A. or "Parent Teacher Association."

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Phone: 805.690.4373

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Phone: 805.898.2920

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Librarian