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.
contain information from published works
provide either citation information or full-text articles
can be subject/topic specific or multidisciplinary
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.
AND 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.
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"
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.
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:
Or as complex as this:
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.
Collection of citation databases, providing abstracts and indexing and cited reference searching to over 10,000 high impact scholarly research journals worldwide, including Open Access journals and over 110,000 conference proceedings, and covering topics in the sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities.
License Information: This license was negotiated by the Canadian Research Knowledge Network. There are no restrictions to the number of simultaneous users. Access is restricted to current students, faculty, and staff of the University of Saskatchewan, and to "walk-in" users of the University of Saskatchewan Library for educational, research, and non-commercial personal use. It is accessible in the library, on campus, and remotely. Systematic copying or downloading of electronic resource content, including the downloading of a full issue, is not permitted by Canadian and International Copyright law.