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Lehigh University Libraries - Library Guides

ENGL 005: Search Tips

Pre-Search vs. Post-Search

There are two basic approaches to getting good results from a search:

Pre-Search: This involves constructing a more complex search that will return more meaningful results. This may involve boolean operators, searching only within a specific field, or using phrase or truncation methods.

Post-Search: This starts with a basic keyword search that returns a wide array of titles, then narrowing the results. There are many ways to narrow results, but most databases will allow you to set filters by subjects, dates, and whether the articles are available in full-text.

 

Key words are words or phrases that explain your topic. All searches start with at least one key word, whether it's a simple or complex search.

Truncation

A truncation search allows you to search for several similar terms using one word. For example if you wanted to search for information on industry in China, using the search term

industr*

will return any results that include the words "industry", "industries", or "industrial".

Many databases use the asterisk * symbol for a truncation search; some may use a question mark ?. Check the help section of the database you're using to be sure,

Phrase Searching

You may already be using this method when you're searching in Google, but by placing quotation marks around a specific phrase, you can limit your results to items that use that exact phrase.

If you search forthe exact phrase "pulse generator", the following title will be included in your results,

"Design of a Tunable All-Digital UWB Pulse Generator CMOS Chip for Wireless Endoscope,"

but not the title

"Helix antennas for generators of short high-voltage pulses".

Pre-Search Using "AND" "Or" "NOT"

These are common features of many different databases: the ability to use AND, OR, and NOT to create a better search.

The area shaded yellow shows you what kind of results you will get using the search terms "calcium" and "fatty acids".

AND: this means that all search terms must be in the item for it to be displayed after your search. It will give you fewer, but better, results.
OR: this means that an item must have at leastone of the terms entered to be displayed. It will give you the greatest number of results and can be helpful when you have two similar terms, such as "sustainability" and "energy conservation".
NOT: this means that the search term cannotbe part of an item for it to be displayed. It is not used as ofter as the other two features, but can help remove unwanted items from your results.

Using Filters

Filters take a set of results and allow you to reduce the number by focusing on a specific area. Filters are helpful because you normally have more results returned from a search than you can read. Different databases have different types of filters, but you can usually filter your results by the following areas:
Content type: Also known as "source type" or "Document type," this limits by the type of publication of your results: journals, popular magazines, newspapers, conferences, etc. This example is from the IEEE Explore database.

Date of publication: This allows you to limit your results to more recent publications, or older articles for a historical perspective. This screenshot is from the Web of Science database.

Full-text: if you need research articles right away and don't have time to wait for an inter-library loan item to arrive, you can limit your results to items whose entire content exists in the database and not just the abstract. this example is from the Academic Search Premier database.

There are many other ways to limit your results; these are only a few examples.