Searching Tips

Searching tips

When you are given an assignment you will need to read what has already been written on the topic to help you form your own arguments, ideas and theories. Whether you are searching the library catalogue, a database, or the internet, you can follow these steps for effective searching:

1. Define your topic. Before you begin searching, think about your assignment and define some of its key terms - an assignment on 'Postmodernism and social welfare’ , for example, will require you to have a good understanding of what 'Postmodernism' means. You might want to consider using a dictionary or other reference work (either print or electronic) to help you understand your terms.

2. Identify keywords Again, before you start searching, make a list of keywords for your assignment. Try to think beyond the actual words given in the assignment title, and identify synonyms and related terms (e.g. ‘substance abuse’, ‘drug abuse’, ‘drug dependency’, ‘drug users’ might be used interchangably, so you should try searching under all these terms).

3. Select the most relevant sources of information Read the database descriptions carefully; which ones seem most likely to contain the type of information that you need? Are you looking for full-text journal articles only? If so, just search full-text databases e.g. Academic Search Elite . If you are looking to do more comprehensive research, you should search both full-text databases and bibliographic sources. Keep in mind that many topics in the Applied Social Sciences are interdisciplinary - that means that you should consider searching more than one subject database (e.g. if you are interested in child psychology, consider searching both PsycINFO and SocIndex).

4. Create search statements from your keywords. There are any number of techniques you can use to make your searches relevant and focussed. You could try some of the following:

  • By combining your keywords together using the linking term and to make search statements you should be able to retrieve fewer results that are more relevant. for example, children and families and interventions.
  • If you looking for a phrase then place it in speech marks. For example "drug dependency"

5. Search and evaluate the results - Use your keywords to search your selected database(s). You may find that you will have to try different terms (or combinations of terms) to get the best results. Read the abstract of an article (if it is available) in order to decide which articles are most relevant for your assignment.

Remember - searching for information is a process. Don't get frustrated if you don't find things immediately - try different keywords or a different database if you don't find the information you are looking for in the first instance. If you are finding very little information, be flexible and broaden your search.

Also, you might want to have a look at some of the Invisible Library online tutorials which can give you more advice on developing more complex search strategies, and remember that your subject librarian is here to help - just ask!

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