What's the best way to look for resources?
Effective search strategies will help make finding resources easier, from choosing the right words to type into a search box to special tools that can help expand or narrow your results. This video from the University of Arizona Libraries will give you quick overview, or you can read the text below to learn more.
After you have defined your topic through the development of a research question or thesis statement, you are ready to start your research. When you use Google, you may be used to typing out your entire question, but when searching the library's resources, it's best to select 2-3 keywords or phrases. How do you know which ones are best? Start by picking out the main concepts of your topic. But wait! Before you start entering any search terms, spend a few minutes trying to think of as many relevant terms and combinations of terms as you can. Authors and journals may use synonyms or related terms to describe the same concept, so you may need to brainstorm additional search terms to find the right resources.
Once you've come up with keywords and phrases to search, use the tricks below to combine them into an effective search strategy:
- Boolean terms (AND, OR, NOT) = Use these terms to connect your keywords. Write them in all capital letters, as seen below:
- AND combines search terms so that each search result contains all of the terms. Using AND narrows your search, so you find fewer results. For example, women AND rap AND music finds results that contain all three terms.
- OR combines search terms so that each search result contains at least one of the terms. Using OR broadens your search, so you can find more results. It's good when there is more than one term for the concept you are researching. For example, rap OR hip hop finds results that contain either term.
- NOT excludes terms so that each search result does not contain any of the terms that follow it. For example, hip hop NOT dance will remove any results that mention dance.
- phrase searching = When a phrase is enclosed by quotations marks, the exact phrase is searched. For example, "hip hop" searches for the two words as a phrase. Be careful to only use this when searching common phrases. Putting quotation marks around phrases will narrow your results to only those that have those two words in that exact phrase.
- truncation = To use truncation, enter the root of a search term and replace the ending with an * (asterisk). For example, type music* to find the words music, musician, musical or musicology. Be careful to have a meaningful root to avoid unrelated results: mus* would find music, but also muscle or mushroom.
- Putting it all together: You can combine these Boolean terms with truncation and phrase searching to create strong searches. For example, if you are interested in finding results about women rap artists, try searching women AND (rap OR "hip hop") AND music*. Parentheses are used to group search terms to specify the order in which they are interpreted, kind of like in math. They are typically used to group search terms separated by OR.
If your first search strategy does not work, try another approach. Remember that you can also reach out to a librarian.