AND - use this when ALL the words must be in your results. This will narrow your results. Example: apples AND oranges; peanut butter AND jelly
OR - use this to connect synonyms, when ANY can come back in your results. This will broaden a search. Example: women OR woman OR girl; cat OR kitty OR kitten
NOT - use with caution since this will eliminate results with the specified word.
Take it Apart
When starting a search, many people type in a phrase, such as: arts in the classroom. This may not yield the best results though, since most search engines will start by trying to find the whole phrase.
Instead, take your topic and pull the main ideas out into keywords. A better keyword search might be: arts AND classroom, or, arts AND teaching, or, arts AND pedagogy.
Think Outside the Box
We often start with a single term, like "theater," and all our searches revolve around that term. Searching with synonyms and related concepts will help find results you may have otherwise missed. Searching for: teaching AND (theater OR drama OR acting) will yield far more focused results than a search on just the term 'theater". (Don't forget different spellings too! i.e. "theater" and "theatre.")
Let Other People Do the Work
Unlike a web search, most catalogs and databases are organized with a controlled vocabulary. This means that every resource indexed in it - books, artcles, etc. - have been assigned specific subject terms. These often appear as part of the citation - look for tools that say Subject, or Subject-Thesaurus Term. By clicking on subject terms, you'll immediately be directed to other items that have been classified with similar content. Controlled vocabulary is a very powerful search tool - use it.
Step Up to Advanced
Almost every search engine, catalog, and database offers an Advanced Search feature. Most will allow you to search on multiple terms, sort for full-text, date ranges, and type of publication, as well as remove certain types of results from a search (like reviews or editorials).
Most of our databases provide limit options that you can use to help narrow your search. Most databases have at least these two limits:
Academic Search Complete, Proquest and many of our other databases provide additional limits you may want to use such as:
Some databases provide unique limit options such as ERIC:
Many of our databases also offer special searching functions which can be really helpful. When you are in a new database click on Help to see what is available. A couple of the functions to look for are:
Since they are written by experts in a discipline, scholarly and peer-reviewed articles can be dense or difficult to understand. Here are some strategies you can use to extract meaning from articles without being overwhelmed.
Most scholarly research articles follow a specific format with the following sections:
Everyone is familiar with Oreo cookies – dry crumbly cookies around a delicious middle.
Scholarly articles are structured in the reverse of an Oreo, meaning that the “good stuff” is on the outside: the Abstract, Introduction, the Discussion, and the Conclusion. These sections are usually in simpler, more direct language, and speak clearly to the purpose of the study, what the results were, and what the implications of the findings might be.
The “dry stuff” is on the inside of the article – the Methodology and the Results. A key point of the scientific method is that results must be able to be replicated to be valid, so Methodology shows exactly how the study might be reproduced, but sheds little light on the “big picture” (unless you’re actually going to replicate the experiment). The statistical analyses in the Results are important, but is just the math verifying the significance of the results.
The Takeaway: Read the Introduction, Discussion and Conclusion first. Skip the middle sections until you have a handle on the purpose and findings of the study. Then go back and re-read the article with these sections. The data, charts, and graphs will now be in context and likely make more sense.
As you are reading the article, here are some questions you should ask to help your understanding of it:
No research happens in a bubble – it always connects to a larger discipline or area of study. So, in order to understand if a study will add to the field of knowledge, researchers must provide the context for their work.
This is usually articulated in the Introduction, where previous research is cited to show what is already known about the subject, and why this study will add something new. These citations are a wealth of additional information, and are often an excellent place to find multiple sources on a topic.
Peer review is important because it means the study has been reviewed by other researchers and experts in the field, and these experts have provided specific feedback to the original authors. Peer review is intensive and can take months, so a study that has been peer-reviewed indicates a high level of authority and reliability. Most library databases allow you to limit a search to just peer-reviewed articles.