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Guide to the Research Process: 2f. Search Strategies

This guide provides an introduction to the skills needed to conduct research, with particular reference to the field of education.

General Search Strategies

The easiest way to search for information electronically is to enter a few keywords into the search box of the resource and see what type of results you get. This strategy, however, will often result in too few, too many, or irrelevant results.

In order to retrieve the most relevant results, you will need to construct a search string, which is a method of translating the keywords from your research topic into the language of electronic search tools such as search engines and databases.  A search string can utilize several techniques, including boolean operators, truncation symbols, wildcards, and phrase searching.

Truncation/Wildcard Symbols

Truncation or wildcard symbols can broaden your search and allow you to look for variations of words.

Truncation

  • Truncation broadens your search by allowing you to retrieve various word endings and spelling
  • Common characters used for truncation are question marks, exclamation marks, asterisks, etc., depending on the database
  • Enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end. The database will return results that include any ending of that root word

Example: educat* will retrieve educate, educating, educational, education, educator, educators

Wildcards

  • Substitute a symbol for one letter in the middle of a word. This is useful if a word is spelled in different way, but still has the same meaning
  • Tells the database to search for any variation of a word
  • Using one wildcard symbol will replace one character, two symbols will replace two characters, etc.

Example: wom#n will retrieve woman and women

Phrase Searching

In phrase searching, a group of two or more words are used as a unit and enclosed in quotation marks.

Example: "secondary school students"

Developing Search Strategies

This video has been posted with permission from the James Branch Cabell Library, Virginia Commonwealth University

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators

  • connect your search words together to either broaden or narrow your set of results
  • tell the search mechanism in databases and search engines to turn off, allowing you to search for documents that contain exactly the words you are looking for

AND

The AND operator narrows a search by requesting that each term appears in each retrieved record. Use AND when you want to combine multiple concepts in one search. The more terms entered, the narrower the search.

Example: assisted AND denominational AND secondary AND schools

OR

The OR operator broadens your search by requesting that either one or both of your search terms appear in the retrieved record. Use OR when you want to broaden your search with related terms, synonyms, and variant spelling.

Example: college OR university OR higher education OR tertiary institution

NOT

The NOT operator restricts your search by excluding records that contain a specific term.

Example: learning disability NOT dyslexia

Google Search Strategies

If your initial search query does not produce the desired results, try these search strategies.

Search Strategies Examples
Queries are not case sensitive.

Lloyd Best and lloyd best will retrieve the same results.

 

Results will typically include each word or punctuation mark included in the search query. Some stop words or exceptions apply.

 

Keep search queries simple and descriptive and use as few terms as possible. Avoid natural language queries as they can limit your results.
 

Use educational technology instead of the use of information and communication technology in education.

Google automatically truncates search terms. To prevent automatic truncation, use a + sign in front of each term.
 

A query on child retrives results with "children" and "childcare."

Use double quotations marks ("") to search terms as a phrase and narrow your results. Google will only retrieve results that have those exact terms in the exact order typed.

A query on Arthur Napoleon Raymond Robinson will retrieve only those sites that refer to Mr. Robinson by his full name. Sites that refer to him as simply "ANR Robinson" may be overlooked.

Use the site: feature to limit your results to a specific website or class of websites.

The query "school violence" site:.edu will only retrieve articles about school violence from academic sites in the edu domain.

To allow for either of several words to appear in your results, use the OR operator. The operator must be in all caps.

A query on secondary OR high OR middle schools will retrieve any or all of the types of schools mentioned.