Boolean Operators and their accessories:
AND, OR, NOT in combination, using ( )
Truncation: Expands search to include other forms of a word (up to 5 characters); can be used for variant spellings that add a letter
comput*= computer, computers, computing, computation, but not computational
architect* = architect, architects, architecture, architectural, architectonic
Wild card: Stands in for unknown or variable letters (useful for cultural variations and irregular plurals)
colo?r labo?r wom?n
Precise word order: Use "quotation marks" when searching for a phrase or proper name as keyword.
You'll probably never pursue a research problem the same way twice; in most cases, your topic will direct your approach--once you get started. Here are a few strategies to get you off the mark and moving forward:
Identify a benchmark resource, then cast your net from there.
* Make lists of all these, and keep track of them in a project journal. Carry your journal with you for the duration of the project.
Talk it out--even if it means talking to yourself!
Discuss your topic with others. How do you know what you mean until you hear what you have to say? and have considered others' arguments once you've said it?
* Keep track of your ideas and inspirations--and the input of others--in a project journal. Don't let that flash of brilliant insight escape capture.
If you already have a great idea:
Brainstorm on potential search terms, then use these to develop more keywords. Keep working lists, organized by CONCEPT (see box below). Use Boolean operators (AND, OR) and power-search techniques (truncation, wild cards, quotation marks, concept grouping) to combine, limit, expand, and qualify your search terms.
* Carry your keyword/concept lists with you--ways to add to and refine them will occur to you often, whether you're actively searching or just going through your day.
A successful research campaign depends on a fairly complex combination of logic and creativity--think of it as highly organized associative thinking. Here is one method of maintaining order while maximizing return on effort:
Here's a simplified example of what an organized Concept list might look like for a project addressing design considerations for mental health facilities for children:
|Building type concept||Client group concept||Design concept|
|"mental health facility"||children*
|(facility OR facilities)
(center* OR centre*)
Many databases allow you to save searches as you go. (Some require a simple registration before this feature is enabled.) This can save you from a lot of duplicated effort. Plus, you can use the database tools to refine one already-completed search by another, or to add a new search term to any search.
Wherever possible, search multiple databases at the same time. Most database vendors allow you to select and search several databases in combination. (Caution: There are pitfalls to this approach. Databases may share a user interface without sharing the same indexing rules or subject heading vocabularies. Combining databases works best once you're familiar enough with your 'instruments' to know which work best in concert.)
Save your citations. As your search progresses, save your best results in RefWorks, or Zotero (or the citation management tool of your choice). Use folders to organize your citations by topic, or source, or application in your argument (background, research method, conclusion). Name your folders carefully, so that you'll recognize your original intentions later on.
Create Alerts, to be notified when additions to a database match your search criteria. Your favorite databases probably offer this feature.