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Agriculture and Bioresources 492/494: Tutorials for Finding and Evaluating Information Sources

This guide contains two modules designed to assist 492/494 AgBio students in contributing to the scholarly conversation in their fields, and finding and retrieving relevant and credible information.

Creating a Search Strategy

Your treasure hunt is ramping up now! You've determined the key concepts and added some synonyms and related terms. Now, it's time to learn how to put all these together and create a search. Here are some tips and tricks on how to manipulate your key concepts and related terms so you can be your own cartographer. Let's go!

Search Strategies and Techniques

Now that you have looked carefully at your research topic/question, you are ready for some tips on how to connect your search terms to build a search strategy. After completing this section, you'll be familiar with Boolean operators and a number of search tips which will allow you to build a search string in a database search box.

Library Databases

  • contain information from published works
  • are searchable
  • provide either citation information or full-text articles
  • can be subject/topic specific or multidisciplinary

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators are small words used to connect main concepts and related terms in a database search box. These little words are AND, OR, and NOT.

AND: Use AND to connect different concepts.

Venn diagram outlining how AND worksAND will narrow your search. For example, searching for

"Fusarium head blight" AND wheat

will result in articles and other sources that contain both terms. In the Venn diagram, A is "Fusarium head blight" and B is wheat. The intersection of the two, where they overlap, represents the results you would get back from a database search: articles that contain both terms, not just one or the other.



OR: Use OR to connect synonyms and related terms.

Using OR will expand your search. Use OR to join together related terms that refer to the same concept, creating one larger concept. For example, you could search for

wheat OR Triticum

and your results list will include all papers that contain the first term, the second term, or both together. As the Venn diagram suggests, A is wheat and B is Triticum. Both circles are completely shaded, meaning that the results will include both terms, whether they are both included in the paper or not.



NOT: Use NOT to exclude a term

NOT will exclude a term from your search. For example, you could search for

aids NOT hearing

and your results will include only articles that contain the term aids. Excluding hearing will assist with getting more precise results.

More Search Techniques

Here are a few tips for searching databases. Most databases will use these shortcuts.

  •     Quotation Marks

Using quotation marks (" ") around a phrase will ensure that you will find the exact phrase and not just single terms.

Example: "Fusarium head blight" "crop rotation" "hard red spring"

  •     Truncation

This tip uses an asterisk (*) to find additional beginnings and endings of words.

Example: *carbon* will return articles with carbon, hydrocarbon, polycarbonate, etc.

                supplement* will bring back supplement, supplements, supplemented, etc.

  •     Wildcard

This tip uses a question mark (?) to find alternate spellings of a word.

Example: searching for colo?r will bring back results with color and colour

Creating a Search String in Web of Science Core collection

The idea of incorporating the Boolean operators and the other search tips is to be able to take some of your main concepts and related terms, and put them together in a way that will yield relevant articles. Following are two screenshots of searches in the database called Web of Science Core Collection, a very large, multidisciplinary database.

Searches can be as simple as this:

A screen shot of a Web of Science search using one search term in each of the two search boxes which are joined by AND










Or as complex as this:

A Web of Science Core Collection screen shot which depicts a complex search consisting of three search terms joined by OR in each of the two search boxes.

There are many other permutations you could choose, and they will change over time as you continue to search for information. New terms may come up, or you may discover new scientists doing work in the area.

Tips for Searching

  • Start with one or two terms and build from there.
  • You can work towards creating comprehensive searches that will include a number of main concepts, synonyms, and related terms, if necessary.
  • If you construct a search like this and find very few results, consider removing some of the terms.
  • Create more elaborate concepts by joining synonyms and related terms with OR on the same search line
  • Join the concepts with AND using the drop down menus to the left of the additional search lines
  • You can “+ Add row” by clicking just under the search box (specific to Web of Science Core Collection)
  • In Web of Science Core Collection, chose "Topic" in the drop down boxes to the left of the search boxes. This will help to make your search more precise.
  • You do not have to use every term you came up with when you deconstructed your thesis topic.
  • Searching is an iterative process and you will have to do several searches, evaluating your results to refine further searches.

Below is the link to Web of Science Core Collection so you can give it a try. If you need any assistance, please contact your librarian, Virginia Wilson.

Take a Quiz!