When you want to familiarise yourself with a field of research, you should be strategic in your literature searches. There are many helpful strategies, and as your skills develop you will discover what works for you and the various assignments you are working on. The the University Library we recommend starting with the following strategy:
1. Ask yourself: What do I have to answer? What do I have to know in order to answer?
2. Ask yourself: Where can I find information that is relevant to my research question?
3. Ask yourself: What terms should I use when searching databases?
Many are used to doing quick searches in Google. But did you know that you can give information to the search engine that makes it expand or specify your searches in a more targeted manner? The following are some helpful techniques for efficient online searches: boolean operators, truncation, and phrase searches.
When we perform literature searches, among the techniques we should play around with are socalled Boolean operators. These are simple commands that make our searches more effective and targeted, and they work in most search engines, catalogues, and databases.
If you have ever used 'advanced search', you might have seen the Boolean operators as alternatives in the menu to the left of the search field: AND, OR, or NOT.
AND connects terms and provides hits on documents that include both of the terms.
OR find documents where both or either term, and can be useful if you are using several synonyms.
NOT leaves out terms that are not relevant to your search, removing 'noise'.
Truncation means that you use only the 'trunk' of the word in order to get more hits. By putting an asterisk (*) after the search term, the search enging finds all documents with words beginning with that word. THis gives more hits that might be relevant, and that might otherwise have been overlooked. For instance, if you search for work* you will get hits on working, workforce, workplace, and so on.
By putting double quotation marks around our search terms, we can search for entire phrases. For instance, a search on the phrase "national minorities" will give us hits on documents that use this specific term, instead of documents that include both or either terms.