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Tips for Searching (Boolean Search Guide)  

Learn how to develop effective search phrases.
Last Updated: Mar 17, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Conducting a Comprehensive Search Print Page

Research Tip

Just because a book or journal article is cited multiple times does not always mean that it is well respected. Instead, it might be a work that has been frequently criticized by experts in the field.

A careful and criticial examination of the context in which the resource is referenced is crucial!


Conducting a Search

There are two main ways to conduct a search in a library resource: by keyword or by subject. Simply put, a keyword search will often use so-called natural language: terms that you and I would use to describe a topic. Searching by subject means that you are searching a set of controlled vocabulary that has been assigned to an item by an indexer or cataloguer. A good way to begin searching for material is using a keyword search, because it can help you discover the subject terms that are used to describe a specific concept or topic.

Before you begin searching, it is useful to think of the terms or phrases that might be used to describe the major concepts in your topic or research question. You may find it helpful to view the “Developing a Search Strategy” component of the Guide to the Research Process.

Once you have identified the key concepts and have created a search strategy, try searching one of the resources you have identified as useful. As you examine the results that are retrieved, look at the subject terms or keywords that have been assigned to the item. This can help you identify other search terms to use. The indexes found in books, and even the table of contents of books can also be useful for this purpose.

Some journal databases allow you to search their thesaurus or subject terms index. This can be another way to identify the specific terms used to describe a topic.

The bibliographies found in books and journals can provide you with lists of other literature that is related to your topic. When examining a bibliography it is a good idea to make note of author’s names who appear more than once within a single reference list, but also for resources that seem to be cited in multiple works. These can be clues to author’s who have published substantially in a specific field, and to works that are considered to be standard resources in a particular area.


Research Tip

Keep in mind that databases do not always use the same terms to describe concepts.

For example, the subject terms used in databases may be similar, but not exactly the same as the Library of Congress Subject Headings, which are used in AUCAT and many other university library catalogues.


Research Tip

The terms used in a given journal article, or book, may vary depending on the place of publication of the book or journal.

For example, in Canadian and British journals, the word "behaviour" is often spelled with a "U", but in American journals it is usually spelled without.

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