Your subject-specific guide to using library resources.
Want to exclude a keyword from your search results? Want to search for an exact phrase? Want to search for words with lots of different endings? Understanding how to perform sophisticated searches of online information will greatly increase your chances of finding what you want. Read on to find out more...
Enclosing two or more keywords in quotation marks will return results containing that exact phrase only.
For example, searching for “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” will search for results containing that exact phrase only. If a result contains the words Charlie, chocolate and factory, but not in that precise order, it will be eliminated. Great if you're only looking for information about Roald Dahl's book!
Boolean operators are terms you can use to give you more control over your search. The most popular operators are AND, OR and NOT. Here’s what they do for you:
If you want to find information that must contain two different keywords (or phrases), place a capitalised AND operator between them. Your search engine or subject database will only find information that features both, narrowing your results.
The AND operator is usually implied in searches, so isn’t always necessary. However, if you find a keywords get ignored in order to increase your search results, you can make sure they're included by using AND.
If you want to find information that contains either of two keywords (or phrases), use the OR operator. This is particularly useful when searching for terms that have synonyms. Your search engine or subject database will find information that features either word or phrase, significantly broadening your results.
If you want to exclude a keyword, use the NOT operator. This is particularly useful when searching for information where you do not want results containing a keyword. However, you should use it carefully, as it may mean you end up eliminating relevant results.
If you are searching for information on banking, you could use that as your keyword. However, if your results are limited, and you want to broaden your search, use the root part of the word (bank) and abbreviate it with an asterisk (bank*). Your chosen database will return links to results matching bank, banks, banking, bankers, bankrupt, and so on. Try another example...
Most search engines and subject databases also allow you can also limit results by date, language, and type of publication. You can also limit by field, restricting a search to the data associated with a resource – title, subject, keywords – rather than the contents of the resource itself. By doing this, you’ll only retrieve highly relevant results. And you can enable these filters before or after your search – whatever works best for you.
Depending on your field, you may find that your subject databases use a controlled vocabulary to catalogue and index their content. These are a standardised list of words and phrases to ensure that searches retrieve all relevant results, even when authors use different terms. Controlled vocabulary may also be referred to as subjects, subject headings, subject terms, descriptors, thesaurus, or index terms, depending on which database you are using.
Examples of databases that use this technique include ERIC, PsycInfo and Medline. If these apply to you and your discipline, you’ll find out how to use them on your Subject Guide.
Looking at the references of a useful article or book chapter is an easy way to identify other potential sources to read. This will lead you to find older material that was published before your original article. Citation searching, on the other hand, allows you to search forwards from an article, to find publications which have subsequently used that original article in their own bibliography. This allows you to find more up-to-date analysis of your topic, and trace academic debates forwards, as well as backwards, in time.
We call this process of looking back at references and forwards at citations, 360 degree searching. Key databases that enable you to use citation searching include Google Scholar (click on the Cited by link underneath any record), Scopus (look for Cited by in the right hand column of your results) and Ovid.
If you’re involved in ongoing study or research, it’s vitally important that you keep up-to-date with new publications and developments in your field. Subject databases allow you save your searches and even set up automatic alerts when new information is released. Mailing lists, discussion groups and social media are also excellent ways to collaborate and stay informed.
Telephone: 0191 208 7662
This work is licensed under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).