Researching online using search terms

· Education

Do you know what the best search terms are to use when looking for books and/or journals in the library? There is something called Boolean logic, which librarians and other professional information seekers use to find information. I won’t get into a long discussion about it; I will just concentrate on the most helpful.

Let’s begin with the use of AND and OR. Let’s say your paper topic includes two important concepts. You must find articles which encompass BOTH terms. So you type in ‘Austen’ AND ‘Northanger Abbey.’ This narrows down the available articles from those just written about someone named Austen, or articles just written about that particular book. There’s a common-sense analogy that you can use to demonstrate this concept. Let’s say you have joined a personals site online. You are a heterosexual male who is looking

for a date. The pickier you are, the fewer possible matches you are going to find. For example, let’s say you want someone who is not overweight. And you want someone who is a certain height. And you want someone who is a certain age. The first word of each of these sentences was ‘and.’ You know what that does. Every time you think of a new restriction, and use the word ‘and,’ you are decreasing the number of likely hits. It’s the same way with a database. If you use ‘Austen’ AND ‘Northanger Abbey,’ you are going to find fewer (but

more relevant to your paper) articles.

On the other hand, let’s say you are desperate to find a date. Your search parameters should be as wide as possible. You can say that you want someone who is a certain height OR someone who is rich OR someone who is a certain age. What this does is dramatically increase the number of hits you can expect because you are not restricting yourself. In a database, the same principle holds. If you want to find a greater number of articles, put ‘Austen’ OR ‘Northanger Abbey.’ Then not only will you get the articles

related to anyone named Austen, you will also be able to consult articles that have to do with Northanger Abbey.

The key thing to keep in mind when searching through indexes in an online database is that human beings record these terms. In the French language, the word ‘index’ is ‘indice,’ which means a clue. This means that an index is a clue which leads you to other books. For example, if you are doing a paper on cars, and you type in ‘cars’ to the novanet catalogue (this is what you use when you are looking for books in the library), then you might not get anything. However, if you type in the word ‘automobile’ you might have better luck. This is just an example. What I’m saying is that there is more

one than word which can express a concept. So if one search term you’re using isn’t helpful, think of another word which might be used instead.


Tomorrow I will talk about more search terms like NOT.

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