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Science honours: Advanced searching techniques

Formulating search strings

These techniques can be combined to create a more sophisticated and controlled search strategy. Combining strategies together is called a search string you can see more examples in the following table.

Search Strategy Operators
coastal AND erosion Boolean
"climate change" AND surface AND corrosion Boolean, phrase
(sea wall OR seawall) AND corrosion Boolean, Grouping
"climate change" AND coast* AND (sea wall OR seawall) Boolean, Grouping, Truncation, phrase

Search Techniques - Choose from the links below

  • Operators are special words that determine how your search terms are combined in the search.
  • They are sometimes called BOOLEAN operators
  • You should always type in your search operators in capital letters.
  • The 2 main search operators are AND and OR.

 

Using the AND operator 
  • Retrieving too many results can be a problem when searching databases.
  • If you add extra search terms, and combine them with AND, you will get only results that contain both or all of the terms.
  • This is a way of making your search more specific (narrower), and getting fewer results.

Example:

Boolean AND searching gets results where all search terms are included

Using the OR operator 
  • Sometimes you might not get enough results.
  • If you add extra search terms, and combine them with OR, you will get results that contain one or other (or both) of your search terms.
  • This is a way of making your search less specific (broader), and getting more results.

Example:

Boolean OR searching gets results with at least one of your search terms

Using the NOT operator 
  • Sometimes you might wish to get results that do NOT contain a certain term.
  • If you combine precede a term with NOT, you will get results that do not contain that term.
  • This is a way of making your search more specific (narrower), and getting fewer results.
  • NOTE: consider that it might be better to search for what you do want, rather than what you do not want.

Example:
government NOT state

Nesting
  • You can use different operators in the same search. If you do, you must use EITHER different search lines, OR round brackets. This is important to ensure that the correct operators work on the correct terms.
  • This enables you to construct complex searches.

Examples:

(politics OR government) AND (history OR past) AND australia

politics OR government
[AND] history
[AND] australia

  • Truncation is used to search for terms with different word-endings.
  • This is another way of making your search broader, and getting more results.
  • In Primo Search, and in most databases, the truncation symbol is the asterisk ( * ).

Example:
politic* will search for the words politic, politics, political, politician, politicians etc.
histor* will search for the words history, historical, historian, historians etc.

  • What's the difference between keyword-searching and phrase-searching?
    • Keyword-searching = when you enter multiple words, your results will contain both or all words, but not necessarily together as a phrase.
    • Phrase-searching  = when you enter multiple words, your results will contain only that phrase.
       
  • Most search tools default to keyword-searching. This includes Primo Search, EBSCOhost databases, and ProQuest databases (also Google and Google Scholar).

Example: If you type in lung cancer, you will get results equivalent to searching lung AND cancer. If you wish to search for the phrase <lung cancer>, you need to type in "lung cancer".
 

  • Some databases, eg Ovid databases, default to phrase-searching.

Example: If you type in lung cancer, you will get the phrase <lung cancer>. If you wish to search for the keywords lung and cancer, you need to type in lung AND cancer.

Database records consist of fields that contain specific pieces of bibliographic information.

Common fields include:

  • Author(s)
  • Article title
  • Journal title
  • Date/year of publication
  • Subject headings
  • Abstract (summary).

For topic searching, it's a good idea to search in the Subject field, but searching in the Title field can work quite well too. If you are searching for an author, you can search only in the Author field; if you are searching for a publication, you can search only in the Publication (also known as the Source) field.

To find the various fields in which you can search, look for drop-down boxes or menus. Here's the EBSCOhost Advanced Search screen.

The EBSCOHost advanced search screen allows you to select which field to search and which Boolean operators you'd like to use

You can combine search terms, search operators, and field searching to build quite complex searches, and get precise results:

The EBSCOHost advanced search screen also allows you to change the scope of your search easily

So far, we have looked at how search operators, truncation, keyword- and phrase-searching, and field searching can narrow or broaden your search.

Search limiters are another important way to narrow a search, and most databases offer a range of limiters that you can use as part of your search, or that you can apply after you have your results. In the latter case, they are usually called refiners or filters, because they refine/filter your results.

Common limiters include:

  • Full text
  • Date
  • Peer-Reviewed
  • Language.

Other limiters will be available according to the subject content of the database, but might include:

  • Publication type
  • Document type
  • Humans
  • Evidence-based practice.

To find limiters to add to your search, look for tick-boxes and drop-down menus on the main search page. To find refiners to refine your results, look for lists to the left or right of your results list:

Limiters are available in most database searches as dropdown menus or check boxes

Tracking Citations

Once you have found a good article, you can use its citations or reference list to find additional resources. There are two ways you can do this:

1. Footnote chasing: You look at an information source's citation list - this will lead you to material that is older.

If you find a good source of information it can be a good idea to take a look at its reference list to see if you can find any other useful resources.

Things to note:

  • This method helps you find information that is older. If the source you are looking at is already quite old, this may not be the best method to employ, though there is certainly no harm in looking.
  • Every article you find using this method should be subjected to the same evaluative scrutiny as any other information source.

2. Citation searching: You look at who has cited the information source - this will lead you to material that is newer.

Some, but not all, databases including Google Scholar have a feature where you can see who has cited the resource you're looking at.

Things to note:

  • The database is unlikely to show you every citing article. This is because no database will contain every resource written on a topic. A database can only compare its own records.
  • Every article you find using this method should be subjected to the same evaluative scrutiny as any other information source.

Searching in the 4 Main Database Platforms - Choose from the links below

  • EBSCOhost is a platform for about 30 databases.  It includes a number of subject-specific databases, plus the multi-subject database Academic Search Complete.
  • In EBSCOhost, you can change from one database to another, or select multiple databases, by clicking on Choose Databases above the search boxes.
  • When you go to an EBSCOhost database, you should be in the Advanced Search screen.
  • EBSCOhost defaults to a keyword-search. If you type in ... tertiary education, this will search for tertiary AND education. To search for the phrase tertiary education, you need to enclose the words in double quotation marks ... "tertiary education".
  • Ebscohost defaults to sorting your results by Relevance.
  • The field(s) to be searched defaults to Select a Field (optional). This includes the main fields in the records. This varies from database to database but usually includes author, title, subject/keywords, and abstract. To specify a field to be searched, use the drop-down menu.
  • To see the full record, and access various tools, click on the title of the item.
  • ProQuest is a platform for nearly 100 databases. The database menu is organised in a hierarchical structure, with many of the top-level databases consisting of subsidiary databases.
  • ProQuest databases should default to the Advanced Search screen.
  • ProQuest defaults to a keyword-search. This means that if you wish to search for the keyword tertiary and the keyword education, you should type in tertiary education. If you wish to search for the specific phrase tertiary education, you should type in "tertiary education".
  • ProQuest defaults to searching in Anywhere except full-text
  • ProQuest defaults to sorting your results by Relevance.
  • To see, and go back to, the results of previous searches, click on the clock icon (Recent Searches) at the top right of screen. 
  • When you are in any ProQuest database, you can change the database(s) you are searching by clicking on the Change Databases link.
  • Informit is a platform for nearly 100 databases which have mainly Australian content.
  • Informit databases should default to the Advanced Search screen.
  • In Advanced Search, you can specify the field(s) to be searched, and whether your search will be a keyword-search (All terms) or a phrase-search (Exact phrase). You can also specify that your search terms are combined with the OR operator (Any terms).
  • Informit defaults to sorting your results by Date (newest first). You can change this to Relevance.
  • To see, and go back to the results of, previous searches, click on the Search History link in the black bar across the top of the screen.

 

  • Ovid is a platform with lots of databases and with subject strengths in health and medicine, nursing, psychology, and earth sciences. It includes the databases MEDLINE, a number of EBM Reviews databases, PsycINFO, and CAB Abstracts.
  • In Ovid, you can change from one database to another, or select multiple databases from the menu, by clicking on Change in the Search panel.
  • Ovid databases should default to the Advanced Search screen. Here, the default is to a phrase search. If you wish to search for the keyword brain and the keyword injury, you should type in brain AND injury. If you wish to search for the specific phrase brain injury, you can type in brain injury (without quotation marks).
  • In Basic Search you can enter your topic in pretty much whatever words you like, and your results will be tagged and sorted by relevance.
  • Search History. Ovid always displays your previous searches in a table above the search box. If you can't see all of your previous searches, click on the Expand link at the top right of this table.

 

Proximity Searching

A proximity search forces a database to find results where one search term appears within a certain number of words of another search term. The proximity operator varies according to the database. 

Examples from an EBSCOhost database:  

employability N3 higher education  (N=near) This will find results where employability is within 3 words of higher education in any order

employability W3 higher education (W=within) This will find results where employability is within 3 words of higher education  in the order in which you entered the search terms

Citation Databases

Citation databases have been developed to help evaluate publications and identify which articles or journals are the most cited and which research has had the greatest impact.Whether it is information about a particular author or subject area you can use citation databases to count citations, find related works that share references or authors and set up alerts to notify you when a document or author is cited elsewhere. In addition, you use citation databases to check and track citation data year-by-year, navigating forward and backward through the literature related to a topic to evaluate its importance to research.

Charles Sturt University subscribes to two citation databases Scopus and Web of Science and you find out more about them by looking at the Citation database webpage.

Using Scopus to Find Citing Articles

When you get a results list in Scopus, one of the columns that displays is Cited by. This shows the number of articles (indexed in Scopus) that have cited the article. Clicking on the number will display brief records of those citing articles.

Scopus results lists are, by default, be sorted by Relevance. You can change this to Cited by (highest) or Cited by (lowest).

You can use this feature of Scopus to:

  • follow a research path forwards and find related articles
  • find seminal articles on a topic.

The Scopus help screens are at Scopus Help.

For individual help with using Scopus, please  contact the Library.