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ARCH 330 / ARTH 331: Art and Public Space: The Future of Memory: Developing a Search Strategy

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators are connectors used to show a relationship between keywords.  The three Boolean operators used in research databases include:  AND, OR, NOT

AND - use this operator between keywords to narrow your search and reduce the size of your results

Ex.  Zika AND Florida   - this search tells the database that you only want articles that include Zika AND Florida within them.

OR -  use this operator between keywords to broaden your search and increase the size of your results

Ex. Iraq OR Syria - this search tells the database that you want any articles that contain either Iraq OR Syria; only one of the keywords has to be present in the article to be part of your results

NOT - use this operator to exclude a keyword from your search

Ex. obesity NOT childhood - this search tells the database that you want articles on obesity as long as they exclude reference to childhood

Need more examples?  See this short video from Carnegie Vincent Library: Boolean Operators: Pirates Vs. Ninjas

Searching Shortcuts

Most research databases allow universal shortcuts in the basic search box.  These universal shortcuts include:

Exact Phrase Searching - use quotation marks to retrieve the phrase typed within

Ex. "weapons of mass destruction" will look for that phrase in articles, whereas weapons of mass destruction will also retrieve any articles on weapons and mass and destruction as individual keywords

Nested Searching - helps a database search more efficiently for two keywords that are similar conceptually and connected in the keyword search with a Boolean operator.  Use parentheses around these two keywords to do nested searching.

Ex. "weapons of mass destruction" AND (Iraq or Syria) - parentheses help the database understand the relationship between the keywords within for organizing the search 

Truncation - broadens the search by instructing the database to include variations of a keyword by shortening the keyword with an asterisk

Ex. psyc* will find:  psychology, psychologist, psychological, psychiatry, psychiatrist, psychiatric, psychosis, psychotic, etc.

      psychol* will find: psychology, psychologist, psychological, etc.

The CRAP Test - Evaluating Online Resources

The C.R.A.P. test is a way to evaluate a source by asking yourself how the source responds to the following criteria:

  • Currency

    • How recent is the information?

    • How recently has the website been updated?

    • Is it current enough for your topic? 

  • Reliability

    • What kind of information is included in the resource?

    • Is content of the resource primarily opinion?  Is is balanced?

    • Does the creator provide references or sources for data or quotations? 

  • Authority

    • Who is the creator or author?

    • What are the credentials?

    • Who is the published or sponsor?

    • Are they reputable?

    • What is the publisher's interest (if any) in this information?

    • Are there advertisements on the website? 

  • Purpose/Point of View 

    • Is this fact or opinion?

    • Is it biased?

    • Is the creator/author trying to sell you something?


--from LOEX 2008 wiki

Search Strategies

Keyword Searching:
Basic keyword searches are a fine place to start. 

  • Single words expressing your concept
  • Make sure you express all concepts related to your interest within each search
  • Identify synonyms for each concept
  • Search terms with more than one word in quotes (ex. “native american”)
  • Truncation symbols (usually * or $) help search words with multiple endings (singular, plural, etc…  Such as pollut* = pollution, pollute, polluted, polluting.)
  • Also, keep a list of useful keywords and search terms to use in successive searches and other databases.

How to Find Specific Kinds of Articles:
No method of searching for specific kinds of articles is fool-proof.  These tips, however, will be of great use:

  • For finding literature reviews:  Entering search terms such as literature review, overview, systematic review, or overview of the literature, all help to identify articles that are literature reviews.
  • For finding empirical articles:  Entering keywords such as “study” or “survey” help to retrieve an article that’s empirical, or evidence-based.  Words such as “methods” or “methodology” (qualitative or quantitative), participants, and “results” or “findings”, also help to identify an empirical article.  Review the article’s abstract as well as the title when seeking these words.
  • For finding primary research:  Using previous studies found in review articles is one way of locating primary research articles for one’s own literature review.  NOTE:  Also find new primary research on your topic in order to update the scholarly research in the field.

Maximizing returns from your search results:

  1. Check to see if keywords are provided within article title pages that might inform your successive searches. 
  2. Identify leading journals and search the recent issues for the latest information in your area of interest; use references from those articles to gather literature reviews, empirical articles, and primary research sources.
  3. When you start seeing a specific author’s name popping up frequently, you’ve found an expert; make sure you include the work of experts in your field to ensure that your literature review is scholarly and timely!

Subject Heading Searches:
Check the subject headings within specific articles to refine successive searches for more focused results

Scholarly / Peer-Reviewed:
Many databases give you the option of checking a box if you wish to retrieve only scholarly / peer-reviewed articles.  I suggest that you absolutely do this, AFTER you’ve done an initial search to cull all potential useful keywords and subject headings from all the articles in the system, peer-reviewed or not.