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ACC311 Research Skills Guide: Advanced searching techniques

Common Search Tips

These search tips can help you to find more relevant results in Primo Search and many other library databases. If these tips don't work in the database you are using check their help section for their set of symbols.

Search Operator Example
Use AND to retrieve results that contain both of your search terms. competition AND structure
Use OR to retrieve results that contain any or all of your search terms. organisation OR organization
Using NOT to exclude irrelevant results. administrator NOT manager
Combine terms with parentheses to create complex searches. (company OR industry) AND competitive positioning
Use quotation marks to search for a phrase "ten network holdings"
Search for terms with different word endings using an asterisk. competit* = competition, competitor, competitors
A question mark can be used to replace a single letter within a word. analy?e = analyze, analyse

Topic Analysis

A topic analysis will help you to clarify and understand what your assessment question is asking you to do.

You will generally be given three key pieces of information:

  • The key topic or concept words direct you in what to research.
  • The limits or qualifiers tell you the specific focus of the topic or concept.
  • The task or instruction terms tell how you are to deal with the content.

Charles Sturt University has a list of explanations for common instruction words.

From the question on the previous page:

Instruction words overview
Qualifying words & phrases Industry: Television broadcasting. Company: Network Ten Holdings Pty Ltd
Key concepts competitors, free-to-air, television, broadcasting and media, voluntary administration, competition, advertising revenue, industry growth rate data, brand identity, competitor diversity, market share data...

Thesaurus/Subject Headings

Journal databases use a controlled vocabulary when indexing article records to enable information to be grouped by topic.

By controlling the vocabulary, the database ensures that synonyms and similar phrases are collected under one accepted term.

You can search using a database's vocabulary. When you are in a database there will usually be a hyperlink near the search boxes called thesaurus, subjects, or subject headings

Field Searching

Records in library databases are comprised of fields containing specific pieces of bibliographic information. Common fields include:

  • author
  • title
  • journal title
  • abstract
  • publisher
  • date/year of publication
  • subject/descriptor
  • Limiting your search to specific fields can yield more precise results.

Searching within the abstract fields (AB) can be particularly helpful. This is because abstracts, as summaries of articles, are very keyword-rich: If you get a 'hit' on a keyword in an abstract you will usually find the article is relevant. The abstract is also a good source to find additional keywords you can use in your search strategies.

Using Facets

Most databases also allow you to limit your search or refine your results set by facets. Common facets include:

  • date
  • language
  • subject area
  • geographical area
  • material type (eg. Review articles, which will provide an overview of research on a particular topic)
  • journal title

In many cases, you can also limit a search to scholarly or peer reviewed articles. The options will depend on the database you are searching.

Topic analysis

Find additional keywords

Tip: Online dictionaries and thesauri can help you identify synonyms.

Thesaurus searching in EBSCOhost

Saving searches and creating alerts

Most databases provide the option to save your searches and set up alerts to help you keep up to date with the latest research. To do this you will need to create an account within a database which is separate from your Charles Sturt University login.

  • A search alert will be sent to you after you have saved a database search that you run periodically.
  • A table of contents (ToC) alert will allow you to receive the table of contents lists for selected recent journal issues.

To find out how to set this up within different databases see the Library's Keep up to date with the literature guide.