Search methods and principles
Search terms and search profile
Define your subject. You could find search words, phrases, synonyms or connections based on this. Divide your topic into different groups. Each group shall include words, phrases, and synonyms in accordance with the subtopic.
Making a schematic overview of relevant search terms is called a search profile, e.g. use the attached form,(or see example).
- Use dictionaries and encyclopedias to find relevant search terms
- Use synonyms and alternative terms, also consider abbreviations and the full phrase, e.g. EU and European Union
- Use both scientific (Latin) and English names for plants and animals
- Use all terms for age and gender of animal species as well as singular and plural forms
- Consider both British and American English, most English-language databases include a mixture of British and American spelling (e.g. behaviour/behavior)
Most databases have good help functions that teach you how to conduct your search and can be found under “Help”.
Some of the following functions or search techniques are the same regardless of which database you use.
When you combine several search terms you need to use search operators. The most common search operators are AND, OR and NOT.
The OR operator retrieves items that contain any or all of the search terms.
OR is used between “synonyms” terms to BROADEN your search, for example :
The AND operator retrieves only those items that include all the search terms.
AND is used between two terms to NARROW your search, for example:
The NOT operator retrieves items that contain the first search term and excludes the second search term.
NOT is used to exclude references – should be used with caution, because you might loose relevant references by excluding search terms.
Truncation/wildcards is used to search by word stems and all derived forms of a word, e.g. singular and plural.The truncation mark (wildcard) is often an asterisk (*, replaces 0 to many characters) and sometimes a question mark (?) or a dollar sign ($). Some databases will let you use truncation at the beginning of the word as well (left truncation) and inside a word. The help function in the database will tell you about your options.
Examples of right truncation: pig? retrieves pig and pigs.
Examples with asterisk: food* retrieves food, foods, foodborne, foodstuffs etc.
Truncation inside a word: colo?r retrieves both colour and color. Different symbols are used in different databases.