Conversing with someone else about your research and writing process can be incredibly helpful. Contact staff at McKillop Library or the Writing Center using the links below.
After you have a list of keywords, you will need to start thinking about how to effectively combine them for your searching. If you are a regular user of search engines like Google or Bing, you may be accustomed to typing a question or sentence directly into the search box. Although that method does sometimes bring up the information you need in search engines, it also produces many irrelevant results. In other search tools, like the library catalog and databases, this type of searching does not work.
To effectively search in the library catalog or a database, you need to develop a search statement. You will use your keywords, phrase searching, and Boolean terms (also known as "Boolean operators") to create your search statement.
Enclose phrases, events and landmarks, and titles with quotation marks. Adding quotations around a set of words keeps the words together in the same order so that the library catalog, databases, and search engines won't search each word as a separate, individual word.
free speech → "free speech"
Statue of Liberty → "Statue of Liberty"
Heart of Darkness → "Heart of Darkness"
While the term "Boolean operators" may sound daunting, it simply refers to three connector words (AND, OR, NOT) that can be used to narrow or broaden your search results when you are using multiple keywords. Boolean terms usually appear in uppercase letters to distinguish them from other words you are searching.
When you search for one or more terms in the library catalog, a database, or a search engine, you create a search string. A search string is simply your search terms along with the Boolean operators you have used to establish the relationships between terms.
Use AND connect keywords and narrow results. Every term connected by AND must be found in the results of the search tool.
When you use an AND search statement, you don't want to use every term you have identified as a keyword. To do so would yield a very limited pool of search results (or no results at all!). It's better to select terms for each facet or key concept of your thesis and then connect them with AND. Try two or three of your strongest keywords linked together at a time.
If you find that you have too few results, eliminate one your your keywords or substitute an alternate term.
Use OR to search with synonyms and expand results. With OR, you are telling the search system that you want information that uses either one term or another. This is an ideal search strategy to use with synonyms.
Use NOT to eliminate search terms. When you use NOT, you are directing the search system to ignore results that include a specific word or phrase. This is helpful when you are trying to eliminate certain subtopics from your results. For example, if you wanted to research icebergs that are not close to Antarctica, you could search "icebergs NOT Antarctica" to eliminate any results that mention Antarctica. Make sure that NOT comes before the term you want to exclude.
In addition to using one Boolean operator to connect two or more search terms, you can also use multiple Boolean operators to develop more sophisticated search strings. However, just like the order of operations in math, combining terms and relationships can become complicated quickly. If you want to prioritize certain relationships, put those search terms and their Boolean operator in parenthesis.
(tattoo OR "body art") NOT piercing → results will exclude the term "piercing" but include either "tattoo" or "body art"
tattoo AND (United States OR America) → results will include the term "tattoo" and either "United States" or "America"
tattoo OR ("body art" AND piercing) → results will include either the term "tattoo" or both "body art" and "piercing"