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Research 101


Want some more help?

Your Search Strategy

Here are some tips if you found too much information, too little information, or the wrong information in your search.

Too Much Information

  1. Try looking at an irrelevant record your search retrieved

    Can you figure out why the database gave it to you? Did you use one word that the computer misunderstood? See if you can use a more specific term or maybe a short phrase that excludes the meaning you don't want. Try adding a new term which makes your old term more specific.

    Instead of

    Japan and economy


    Japan and economy and (auto or automobile or car)

  2. Check where in the record your search terms matched

    The best matches for topics are in fields like Subject or Title. Look for an Advanced or Expert Search option in the database to search in specific fields only, if you can.

  3. Use limiters when they're available

    Will the database let you ask for publications only in English? Can you ask for only journal articles? Want more recent information? Is there a subject heading that covers your topic? Can you get rid of book and film reviews? Play around with your options and see if they help. Try using the operator NOT.

    (Iran and Iraq) not war

    Hussein and not Saddam

    Clinton not Lewinsky

    +Jazz -Utah

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Too Little Information

  1. Did you spell your search terms correctly?

    Research databases are remarkable tools, but they don't come equipped with spell checkers. One misspelled word can sink an entire search. Check a dictionary.

  2. Get rid of long phrases

    When you type in a phrase, all the words must appear in exactly that order before the database will give you anything. Some databases automatically put the operator AND between the words you type, turning your phrase into a long Boolean search string.

    Instead of

    discrimination against ethnic Chinese in Vietnam


    discrimination and ethnic Chinese and Vietnam

  3. Try using alternative terms

    That's what you gathered all the extra vocabulary for. Don't forget truncation or wildcards for variant forms of a word.

  4. Try to come up with broader terms for the idea you need.

    Every so often, it happens that there's very little written on a specific topic, but a lot on the general area.

    Very narrow

    recombinant DNA and sheep


    cloning and animals


    genetic engineering and animal*

    Very broad

    genetic* and animal*

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The Wrong Information

  1. Check the coverage of the databases you're using

    Do they cover the kinds of material you need? The right discipline(s)? The right kinds of documents? The right dates? Under the "Databases By Title" tab, click the 'i' next to each database to learn its discipline scope and date range.

  2. Try going to "Databases By Subject" in the COD Library's Databases page

    Click on your general subject area (History, Biology, etc.) This will generate a list of good starting points in your subject.

  3. Try drilling down through the "Research" section of COD Library's website.

    They're set up like Yahoo! and similar Web sites, which means you have to know what general field your subject falls under (Social Sciences? Sciences? Interdisciplinary (2 or more disciplines)? Government and Law?) Try a few of these and see where you can find your subject. Then try using some of the databases you find linked there.

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