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Social Patterns and Processes -- Resources @ SLC: Article Search Tips

Library guide for SOC34-114-02, Fall semester. Professor Angela Frederick's class.

Major Search "Operators" and "Symbols"

The table courtsey of Baker Library | Bloomberg Center, Harvard Business School, Soldiers Field, Boston, MA 02163, 617-495-6040

Major Search Operators

AND

The AND operator narrows a search by requiring that all search terms appear in records retrieved.

Venn diagram showing shaded intersection between two circles Use AND when you want to:
  • COMBINE multiple concepts or areas of a topic in one search, e.g.,
    • cosmetics AND trend
    • children AND advertising
  • LIMIT a search by specific criteria, e.g.,
    • employment AND Greece
    • salary AND Atlanta

OR

The OR operator broadens a search by requiring that either one, but not necessarily both search terms appear in the records retrieved. .

Venn diagram showing shaded two intersecting circles fully shaded Use OR when you want to:
  • BROADEN your search using synonyms, multiple word forms, e.g.,
    • statistics OR numerical
    • automobiles OR vehicles
    • child OR children
    • theater OR theatre
    • mobile phone OR cell phone

Tip:

  • Use ( ) [parentheses] to group search terms by concept when you use multiple search operators, e.g.,
    • (woman or female) and (purchase or spending)
    • (venture capital or private equity) and China

Subject Headings

  • Note the subjects suggested in the sidebar on the screen left side of the returned search.

Major Search Symbols

Exact Phrase

Databases allow searching for exact phrases. Some require a particular search symbol such as quotations marks or parentheses.

Truncation

Truncation broadens a search by looking for variations in word stems, e.g., plurals. Some databases will not automatically search for variants. Truncation symbols vary from database to database. The common ones are *, !, and ?.

Truncation Symbols in our key article databases:

Academic Seach CompleteLexisNexis Academic
* [asterisk] used as a right-handed truncation character following a word root only, e.g., econom* will find economy, economics, economist, etc.

! [exclamation mark] used as a right-handed truncation character following a word root only, e.g., econom! will find economy, economics, economist, etc.

Tips:

  • Be careful when placing the truncation symbol and do not truncate too early, e.g., aut* will find auto, automobile, automobiles, automatic and author.
  • Truncation symbols may be used in conjunction with the operators AND and OR.

Keyword Search Tips: Words to Avoid

Common Words

  • Avoid using words that are too general or common by themselves since they will give you far too many search results to be meaningful. For example, a keyword search on "strategy" in the ABI/ProQuest database retrieves more than 341,500 records.
  • Use common words only in combination with other keywords that will further define your topic, e.g., marketing strategy.

Meaningless Words

  • When selecting keywords, LEAVE OUT articles (the, a, an), prepositions (in, of, on), and conjunctions (and, or, not). These words are insignificant by themselves and appear in virtually every database record. Databases will not search for these words.

Slang Words

  • When selecting search terms, it is always best to use standard English words.
  • Only use slang or non-standard English words when you are specifically searching for occurrences of that term.

Abstract Words

  • Keep in mind that the terms you choose to search on should not only be significant but also easily definable. Avoid hard-to-describe concepts such as "causes of" or "influences of." Such terms do not to describe your topic, but rather point out what you need to evaluate and determine after doing your research.
  • For example, if your topic is the impact of air bags on the number of traffic fatalities, the keywords are "air bags" and "traffic fatalities." The impact will be determined after your research. While these keywords may yield some search results, the results usually will not include all of the relevant information available. It is wise to think of different ways to say the same thing to find additional relevant items; e.g., use the keywords "traffic accidents."


List of keywords to avoid:

  • impact
  • influence
  • importance
  • effect/effective/effectiveness
  • assessment
  • development
  • pros
  • significance
  • analysis
  • compare/comparison/comparative
  • causes
  • contrast
  • characteristics
  • cons

Few Basic Rules When Article Searching

Break your question into multiple concepts.

Use AND to connect differenct concepts; OR to connnect similar concepts.

Locate the proper keywords (significant words).  Most databases support keyword searching.  It allows you to use your own words and phrases via keyword searching.

Avoid meaningless words:  a, and, the, in, of, on

Find who has cited articles you find interesting.