When you search in a systematic way you can gain a lot. To cover your subject of interest best, it is important that you plan and reflect on your information searching to find as much relevant information as possible and also to evaluate the outcome of your searches and the information you find. And remember to save your searches and the references you find during your searches!
Before you start your search, take the time to reflect on the following:
Your research question and encyclopedias can be a good start to get suggestions for keywords and main concepts. Some databases has indexes or so called subject thesauri to help you find subject terms suitable for that database. Also try to figure out synonyms and variations for the search words.
At the starting point of the material gathering process, dissertations, student theses, review articles and reference works are good starting points to learn about and get familiar with a new subject area. Reference works, as subject specific encyclopedias and handbooks, are very useful to get an overview of a research field. You will find comprehensive articles about the research within an issue and references for further reading.
You can optimize your searches by using the most common search techniques. Most search services have a "help session" or an online tutorial where they explain which search techniques could be used and how to use them. Common search techniques are boolean search, phrase search and the usage of truncation and wild cards. It is often possible to create alerts for searches and journals in your favorite databases. You will then be notified and receive a message when a new match to your subject area or an new issue of the journal has entered the database.
You can combine your search terms using the words AND, OR and NOT, also called boolean logic or boolean operators.In databases and search engines you can often combine these by choice, in drop-down menues, but sometimes they can be pre-defined. Boolean logic works like this:
Truncation means that you replace the end of a word with a sign, usually the * sign, alllowing you to search everything starting with a certain stemming. Example: If you write socio* you get sociology, sociological, sociopath etc.
You use phrase search when you want specific words to appear in a specific order. Most databases mark phrases with quotation marks "" before and after the phrase. Examples:"Karl Marx" gives hits for this specific name in this specific order, but not for the Marx brothers or other persons named Karl.
This brief lecture provides tips and tricks on how to search efficiently, use keywords and different search techniques.
What should you should consider when selecting search tools and databases in order to find material for your paper or thesis? When should you choose one database over the other? What are the advantages or disadvantages with different search tools?
Always evaluate the material you find. Examine the sources critically, for example the authority and actuality of the material. See tips on what to look at:
A thesaurus is a structured list of established search terms. Using a thesaurus can be of great help when you conduct subject searches in databases, to see which terms are used and see related, broader or narrower terms.
How (and Why) to Use the APA Thesaurus When Searching PsycINFO via EBSCOhost (video clip from APA)