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Database help: Advanced features

Proximity Searching

In Search Techniques, we looked at using search operators to combine search terms. AND is the operator that ensures search results contain both or all terms.

In some databases, you can use a proximity operator to specify that your search terms must be close to – that is, within a certain number of words of – each other. This is narrower than a phrase-search, and broader than a keyword search.

The proximity operator is usually a letter or word, followed by a number. You can specify the number, and it will determine the number of words between your two search terms. The higher the number, the more results you will get, and the less relevant they might be.

In the EBSCOhost example below, the database will search for politic* within 4 words of australia*:

This search uses politic* N4 australia*

Proximity operators in the major database platforms:

  • EBSCOhost          Nn
  • ProQuest             NEAR/n
  • Informit               %         [and you must have All terms selected]
  • Ovid                    ADJn

where n is the number you nominate.

Search History

Most databases allow you to go back to previous searches that you have run in your current login session.

You can see these searches and go back to the results, but you can usually also do things such as edit a search and combine searches.

For details of how you can access Search History in the main database platforms, see Database Platforms.

Here is what the EBSCOhost Search History looks like:

Search History in EBSCO shows all search terms used, and records the limiters used

 

Your Search History will be cleared when you log out of a database. If you want to save searches permanently, you need to create a personal account/folder within that database or database platform. You can find out how to do that from the help screens of the database or platform you are using.

Search Alerts

In most databases you can set up a search as a search alert, and the database will notify you when new records that match your search are added to the database.

Notification is usually by email.

Before you can create a search alert, you usually (Informit is a notable exception) need to have a personal account/folder within that database or platform. You can find out how to do that from the help screens of the database or platform you are using.

You can also set up Journal alerts, also known as TOC (Table of Contents) Alerts: these are a special category of search alert. A TOC Alert will notify you when records or content from a new issue of a journal are added to the database.

Folders

Most databases allow you to mark a record, or save it into a folder, so that you can find it easily later.

How you do this varies from database to database, but it usually involves ticking a box, or clicking on an icon or link. You can usually select records individually or in multiples. Sometimes you can select a whole page of records, or all the records in the results list. 

When you save records into a folder, this will usually be cleared when you log out of that database or database platform.

If you want to save records permanently, you have to set up a personal folder or account. This is free, and worth doing if you expect to use the same database or platform over a period of time. As noted above, this personal folder/account is usually also required to save searches and set up alerts.

You can find out how to do set up a personal folder/account from the help screens of the database you are using.

Using a Thesaurus

In the box on Search Techniques, we talked about field searching and how you can search for your terms in the subject field to get more targeted results.

In some databases, you can take this further by utilising the database thesaurus.

The thesaurus screen in the ERIC database (EBSCOhost), showing the browse/search box and browse list.

Image: The thesaurus screen in the ERIC database (EBSCOhost).

What is a thesaurus?

In the Library context, a thesaurus is an organised system of subject headings/terms in a database where:

  • the database is subject-specific, and therefore the headings/terms are subject-specific
  • you can browse and search in the thesaurus for terms to use in your search
  • the subject terms are assigned according to article content, allowing you to create a more targeted and effective search
  • the subject terms are usually organised hierarchically
  • there are usually added features that allow for sophisticated searching.

Not all databases have a thesaurus

To identify whether the database you are using has a thesaurus, look for a heading or tab at the top of the search screen. It might be labelled Thesaurus, or it might have a specific name such as CINAHL Subject Headings or MeSH Terms.

How do I use a thesaurus?

This will vary according to the database. The process is usually to browse or search the thesaurus to identify the subject term which matches your topic, and then add that term (or terms) into a search box or search builder. When using a thesaurus, we usually search for one concept, or part of a topic, at a time, and then use Search History to combine the search sets.

Some databases/thesauri have extra features which might include:

  • a tick-box for Suggest subject terms (EBSCOhost) or Map term to subject heading (Ovid) where the database attempts to match your term to a thesaurus term
  • scope notes for each subject term which describe what they are used for
  • a set of sub-headings which can also be used in your search
  • a hierarchical arrangement where you can identify broader and narrower terms (different from sub-headings)
  • the capacity to explode a subject search to return narrower terms as well
  • suggested related terms
  • a system of major and minor subject headings where you can search for your term only as a major heading.

The thesaurus screen in the A+ Education database (Informit), showing the browse/search box and browse list.

Image: The thesaurus screen (Australian Thesaurus of Education Descriptors) in the A+ Education (Informit) database.

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