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Research Process

Develop Search Strategy

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Good search practice could involve keeping a search diary or document detailing your search activities, so that you can keep track of effective search terms, or someone else can reproduce your steps and get the same results.  

This record could include: 

  • The names of the sources you search and which provider you accessed them through - eg Medline (Ovid), Web of Science (Thomson Reuters). You should also include any other literature sources you used. 

  • The search strategies that you applied when searching different sources (eg Medline, Web of Science) can be added as an appendix to your document. This provides additional detail on: 

    • how you searched (keyword and/or subject headings) 

    • which search terms you used (which words and phrases) 

    • any search techniques you employed (truncation, adjacency, etc) 

    • how you combined your search terms (AND/OR). Check out the Refine your search results video for more tips on  Boolean Searching. 

  • The number of search results from each source and each strategy used.  This can be the evidence you need to prove a gap in the literature, and confirms the importance of your research question. 

Created by Elsevier librarian, Katy Kavanagh Web, this document outlines tools, terms and techniques to think about when conducting a literature search 

 

From: “Library Resource Guides: Literature Review: Developing a Search Strategy.” Developing a Search Strategy - Literature Review - Library Resource Guides at Charles Sturt University, libguides.csu.edu.au/c.php?g=476545&p=4949988. Accessed 22 May 2020. 

This video talks you through the process of turning your research question into an effective search strategy.  

Learn what strategies work best for searching the open web, your library catalog, and subscription databases. 

What are Boolean Operators? 

Boolean operators form the basis of mathematical sets and database logic. 

  • They connect your search words together to either narrow or broaden your set of results. 

  • The three basic boolean operators are: ANDOR, and NOT. 

Why use Boolean operators? 

  • To focus a search, particularly when your topic contains multiple search terms. 

  • To connect various pieces of information to find exactly what you're looking for. 

  • Example: 
    second creation (title) AND Wilmut and Campbell (author) AND 2000 (year) 

 

Use AND in a search to: 

  • narrow your results 

  • tell the database that ALL search terms must be present in the resulting records 

  • example: cloning AND humans AND ethics 

The purple triangle in the middle of the Venn diagram below represents the result set for this search. It is a small set using AND, the combination of all three search words. 

Be aware:  In many, but not all, databases, the AND is implied.  

  • For example, Google automatically puts an AND in between your search terms. 

  • Though all your search terms are included in the results, they may not be connected together in the way you want. 

  • For example, this search:  college students test anxiety is translated to:  college AND students AND test AND anxiety. The words may appear individually throughout the resulting records. 

  • You can search using phrases to make your results more specific. 

  • For example:  "college students" AND "test anxiety". This way, the phrases show up in the results as you expect them to be. 

 

Use OR in a search to: 

  • connect two or more similar concepts (synonyms) 

  • broaden your results, telling the database that ANY of your search terms can be present in the resulting records 

  • example: cloning OR genetics OR reproduction 

All three circles represent the result set for this search. It is a big set because any of those words are valid using the OR operator. 

 

Use NOT in a search to: 

  • exclude words from your search 

  • narrow your search, telling the database to ignore concepts that may be implied by your search terms 

  • example:  cloning NOT sheep 

 

Search Order: 

Databases follow commands you type in and return results based on those commands. Be aware of the logical order in which words are connected when using Boolean operators:  

  • Databases usually recognize AND as the primary operator, and will connect concepts with AND together first.  

  • If you use a combination of AND and OR operators in a search, enclose the words to be "ORed" together in parentheses. 

 Examples: 

  • ethics AND (cloning OR reproductive techniques) 

  • (ethic* OR moral*) AND (bioengineering OR cloning) 

 

From: “Database Search Tips: Boolean Operators.” LibGuides, libguides.mit.edu/c.php?g=175963&p=1158594. Accessed 22 May 2020. 

What is Truncation? 

Truncation lets you search for a word that could have multiple endings. The symbol for truncation is usually an * at the point where the spelling of the word could change.  

For example, PTSD AND music* would find articles with the terms PTSD and music/musical/musician/musicians/musicality in them.  

Truncation is very useful when you know one of your search terms has several endings, but all of the variations represent basically the same idea. Using truncation will help you complete your search faster because you will not have to manually type in and search every variation of the word. 

 

Can be used for: 

  • Root words that have multiple endings.  Example: sun = suns, sunshine, sunny, sunlight 

  • Words that are spelled differently, but mean the same thing.  Example:  color, colour 

 

Truncation/wildcard symbols vary by database.   

Check the help screens to find out which symbols are used. 

 

Truncation: 

Truncation, also called stemming, is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings. 

  • To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end. 

  • The database will return results that include any ending of that root word. 

  • Examples: 
    child* = child, childs, children, childrens, childhood 
    genetic* = genetic, genetics, genetically 

  • Truncation symbols may vary by database; common symbols include: *, !, ?, or # 

 

Wildcards: 

Similar to truncation, wildcards substitute a symbol for one letter of a word. 

  • This is useful if a word is spelled in different ways, but still has the same meaning. 

  • Examples: 
    wom!n = woman, women 
    colo?r = color, colour