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Speech Language Pathology at the Graduate Level

Searching like a pro

In Google you can type in, "What's the weather like in New York City this weekend?" and receive an answer. But in databases, you need to dumb down your inquiry to short, important pieces of information to get relevant sources.

For example, if I am doing research to 'identify the most effective means of using augmentative and alternative communication with patients who have autism', I do not type in that ENTIRE sentence. Really I am looking for the meat of my sandwich:  

Autism / Augmentative and Alternative Communication 

Once you have the meat, you can then start to put together a search strategy like in the example below. Consider synonyms and related words as well -- perhaps some authors refer to dogs as canines in their articles or specifically the breed German Shepard. Make sure you get ALL of the relevant possibilities for your research.

 

So your search may look like this:

 

An even more thorough search can be developed, using the thesaurus in the Communication Source database, which uses synonyms for AAC. For example:

("communication devices for people with disabilities" OR "assistive listening systems" OR "reading devices for people with disabilities" OR "voice output communication aids") AND (autism OR "autism in children" OR "autistic children")

Building an in-depth search

At some point, you'll want to write on or explore a topic more in-depth and thus you'll need to do a more comprehensive search. This can be a big task. Where do you begin?

  1. Start with a table like the one below to keep your thoughts organized. On the left write your original concepts

  2. Next, see if the database you're using (for example, Communication Source) has a thesaurus/subject heading database built within it. Use it to understand how your term will be interpreted and if you agree. 

  3. The last column is designed for words not included in the thesaurus or other synonyms by which your concept could be referred to in the literature. For example, if you are interested in using AAC with children, you might want to use additional terms, including these other terms using OR in your search to ensure you get all relevant material. Example:

Summing up

Searching for articles is not always easy, but there are tricks that will help you navigate and find more relevant materials to your needs.

  1. Boolean operators (AND/OR/NOT)

  2. Filters for search results (usually on the left-hand side)

  3. Subject Headings 

  4. Does the database use their own thesaurus?

Search Strategy Builder

When searching library databases, you need to boil down your inquiry to short, important pieces of information.

To help you think through this process of building a good search, here's a little tool that can help you construct effective searches for Search Everything @ BU, many article databases, BU Books (the catalog), and more. Developed by Ohio State University, it's called Search Strategy Builder.

Just click on the link, fill in the blanks, and click the button to create a search statement. You can then copy and paste that statement into the database of your choice.

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