So far, you’ve learned about brainstorming ideas for research, narrowing down your topic and where to go to find resources. But, what about the how of searching? We’ve already mentioned checking the index of a book. But, what about searching online or in a database? There’s so much information out there; it can be overwhelming. Look at some of our guidelines below to help you form a smart search strategy.
We already discussed choosing the right database for your topic, so what do you do now that you’re in the database? Well, we recommend that you start with an advanced search. Doing this will allow you to choose whether to search by keyword, title, author or other parameters. Often, it will also allow you to limit by date, publication type, or other options. This means that you’ll get back results that are more specific to your particular topic.
Look at all the options the advanced search tab gives you.
If you decide to do a keyword search, try coming up with synonyms for some of your keywords to get a better idea of the proper terms for your topic. See our earlier blog post for more on choosing the right search term.
Peer-reviewed and full-text options are available in most of the databases. Make sure you’re using these the first time that you search. Limiting your results to peer-reviewed means that you’ll only get back articles from scholarly journals and publications that have been read and reviewed by others in the field of study. This means that the research you’re looking at is sound and unbiased. Full-text simply means that you’ll only receive results that are full-text articles. Sometimes, the databases we use here at EU will bring back abstracts, citations, are partial text articles. Searching full-text means that you’ll actually be able to read the whole thing!
Our databases also include articles from popular magazines and trade publications. These aren’t peer-reviewed, but it’s still fine to use work from them as long as you make sure that the article isn’t biased and that you cite it properly. (Magazines and newspapers, as well as trade publications, can include advertisements. Don’t mistake an advertisement for an article!)
If you decide to venture outside the databases and onto the internet for your research, be a savvy searcher! Make sure to evaluate the website before using materials from it. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does the author of the website include references?
- Who published the page and what are their credentials?
- Is the person supported by a known organization or university?
- Does the author have any biases? Are multiple points of view shown?
- How often is the page updated?
One final note on searching, make sure that your search terms are spelled correctly. It sounds obvious, but if you aren’t getting any results back at all and your search terms aren’t incredibly long and/or specific, chances are you’ve spelled something wrong. Double check it. If it’s spelled correctly and you still aren’t getting any results, come see a librarian. We’re always happy to brainstorm with you!