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PhD students Malmo Art Academy: Searching for information

The Information Search Process

The information search process



Before you start searching, take the time to reflect about the following: 

  • What am I going to use the information for? 
  • What kind of sources will I be needing?
  • In which search facilities can I find suitable material?
  • How do I search for that material? 
  • Which limitations should I apply?

The first step in the information search process is always the question or issue you want to address: What makes a research question good? Which criteria are applicable? Is it possible to answer?

Encyclopaedias and subject thesauri can be a good start to get suggestions for keywords and main concepts. Some databases has indexes or so called thesauri to  help you find subject terms suitable for that database. Also remember to figure out  synonyms and variations for the search words. 

Before you start searching, think through what kind of information you are looking for. Which sources and literature may be useful? At the starting point of the material gathering process, dissertations, academic papers/essays and reference works are good staring points to learn about and get familiar with a new subject area. Reference works, that is subject specific encyclopaedias 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 provide references for further reading.

To optimize your searches it is appropriate to get familiar with the most common search techniques. Most search services have a "help session" or an on-line tutorial where it is explained how to which search techniques should be used and how to use them. Common search techniques are boolean search, phrase search  and usage of truncation and wild cards.

The search process is seldom straight or simple, you might have to redefine your search terms as you go. Remember to save your searches, search words and results.

The links within the text above are directed to learning resources - texts and training within search methodology (sökmetod), resources created by Lund University Libraries.

Boolean operators

To be able to build a proper search query you need to combine the search word correctly. To do this you should use the Boolean operators:

- All search terms should be included in the hits

- Limits the search result, i.e. reduces the number of search hits

- Space between words equals AND

- At least one (either - or) of the terms should be found in the search hits

- Use for synonyms or other alternative words

- Broadens the search, i.e. results in more hits

- The term should NOT be found in the hits

- Restricts the search result, i.e. less hits

- You may, by mistake, take away hits of potential interest

Use CAPITALS when you write the Boolean operators. Some databases accept lower case letters, but not all. In Google you have to use capitals.

Phrase searching and Controlled Vocabulary

Phrase searching allows you to search a database for particular words in a particular order. It is useful for names of companies, events etc. Surrounding a group of words with double quotes instructs most databases & search engines to only retrieve documents in which those words appear together and in the same order.

e.g.“global warming”

“Access to Health Records Act”

The use of controlled vocabulary is an alternative to 'free text' searching using keywords.

A number of databases use a thesaurus or structured index of subject terms. These are added to the article by editors, and are independent of the actual language used by the author in the text. You do not need to think of all the variations of a term like 'amputate' and truncation and wild cards are not used. Databases with this facility have a check box for 'subject headings'  'subject terms' or similar.

Free text and controlled vocabulary can be used for different elements of the same search and then be combined with Boolean operators.

Truncation and wildcards

The symbols ? and * is often used to represent wildcards and truncation.

These two symbols can be used together or separately, and at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end of a term. To literally search these symbols, enclose them with quotation marks.

The ? wildcard symbol is used as a substitute for a missing character in a search term, usually when you are unsure of a spelling or when you would like to find two forms of one word. For example, if you enter WOM?N, the catalogue locates records containing either "woman" or "women."

The * truncation symbol is used to truncate search terms and can represent a single character, several characters, or no characters. If you follow the * symbol with a number, the catalogue limits the number of characters matched. When more than one term in a search expression is truncated, each term is searched for all variations. For example, if you enter JAME*, the catalogue locates the specified records containing the terms "Jame," "James," "Jameson," and "Jamerton."