Searching the databases effectively involves using Boolean Operators. Boolean operators are words that instruct the computer how you want words to be combined. Most databases allow you to choose Boolean operators from a dropdown box.
AND Records retrieved must include all of the words or phrases. This will narrow your search. Example: miller death
OR Records retrieved must contain at least one of the words or phrases. This will broaden your search. Example: philosophy or criticism
NOT Excludes records containing that word or phrase. This will narrow your search. Example: shakespeare not costume
Truncation uses a symbol to account for variations of a word. The database will find records containing words beginning with the portion of the word you provide. You need to use this carefully, though, because it can result in false “hits”
Example: theat* will give you records containing the words theater, theatre, theaters, theatres, and theatrical; scen* will give you records containing the words scene and scenery but also scenic and scent. Note that the truncation symbol varies from database to database. Most use an asterisk but a few use an exclamation mark, a percentage mark or a question mark. The description of the database (found by clicking on the “i” in the blue dot next to the database name) identifies the symbol used.
Most people begin searching by using a keyword search, which generally results in more “hits” than a subject search but also results in more irrelevant items. The reason for this is that a keyword search searches the entire record, including author, title, subject and abstract fields, while a subject search is limited to only the subject field. So, a subject search may yield fewer results but more relevant ‘hits’. There are two ways to approach subject searching. One is to identify a useful record and study its subject headings. Most databases allow you to click on those subject headings to perform another search. A second tactic is to consult the database’s thesaurus (if available) for the proper subject terms to use. A thesaurus may also bring to light other, more specific or broader terms to use.
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