There are a number of techniques you can use while searching to get better and more relevant results.
Basic and advanced search
Basic search usually involves one search box, with a few options about searching a specific collection or field. This is great for general searching. When you have multiple keywords or complex search queries, using Advanced search can be helpful. This usually involves several different boxes for your different keywords, built-in search operators, and more options for field searching and limiters.
Most databases will have a link to Advanced Search next to their Basic search option. Advanced Search in Google Scholar is accessible from the menu.
Use these with your keywords to refine your searches and specify exactly what you want to find. These are most useful in journal databases and Primo Search. (Some of them won't work as well in Google Scholar.)
|Use AND to retrieve results that contain both of your search terms.||police AND federal|
|Use OR to retrieve results that contain any or all of your search terms.||politics OR government|
|Using NOT to exclude irrelevant results.||canine NOT dental|
|Group terms or equivalent keywords with parentheses to create complex searches.||(tertiary OR university) AND education|
|Use quotation marks to search for a phrase||"lung cancer"|
|Search for terms with different word endings using an asterisk.||manag* = manage, managed, managing, management|
|A question mark can be used to replace a single letter within a word.||analy?e = analyse, analyze|
Field searching and limiters
Most databases will allow you to specify which field you want to search. Common fields include author, title, dates, and subject headings/topic, and these are usually available in both basic and advanced search.
Once you've searched, you can also limit your results by some of these fields. This is extremely useful if you want all of your articles to have been published within a certain date range, or for them all to be peer-reviewed. Look for these in the menus beside your search results.
Using the AND operator
Using the OR operator
Using the NOT operator
government NOT state
(politics OR government) AND (history OR past) AND australia
politics OR government
politic* will search for the words politic, politics, political, politician, politicians etc.
histor* will search for the words history, historical, historian, historians etc.
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".
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:
Most databases will default to searching in all the main fields (see Database Platforms below), but changing this to search only in a specific field, or fields, can give you more precise results.
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.
You can combine search terms, search operators, and field searching to build quite complex searches, and get precise results:
For information on searching using a thesaurus, see Using a thesaurus.
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:
Other limiters will be available according to the subject content of the database, but might include:
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:
Good search practice could involve keeping a search diary or document detailing your search activities (Phelps et. al. 2007, pp. 128-149), so that you can keep track of effective search terms, or to help others to reproduce your steps and get the same results.
This record could be a document, table or spreadsheet with:
A search planner may help you to organise you thoughts prior to conducting your search. If you have any problems with organising your thoughts prior, during and after searching please contact your Library Faculty Team for individual help.
EndNote is software that can be of great help with any type of review. See our EndNote Library Resource Guide for detailed instructions on how to download this tool and use it to organise your literature, store your PDF files and generate lists of references.
EndNote is particularly useful for systematic reviews as (among other things) it enables you to:
You may also consider inserting the inclusion and exclusion criteria checklist into a notes field in each EndNote record.
NVivo can be used with EndNote to can help you identify articles, key findings and influential authors when conducting a literature review. NVivo can import PDF files and bibliographic information from EndNote. You can organise, code or tag literature, to help you keep track of themes, critical quotes and ideas.
See our EndNote and NVivo for Literature Review Library Resource Guide for detailed information about using NVivo with EndNote. We also run online workshops on this from time to time, so check our calendar for upcoming sessions.