Searching for articles and books in the library requires skill, practice, and patience! If you only use the internet for resources, you are missing carefully chosen collections of high-quality information provided by the library through databases. Although these sources are found using an internet connection, you are not searching the Web (WWW). The databases contain information that is not found on the internet, that is high quality, that is accessible 24/7, and that is what your professor is wanting to see in your essays!
The skills needed for searching databases are identifying keywords and understanding Boolean operators.
The key to being a successful online searcher & researcher is to learn, practice and use common search techniques that you can apply to almost any database, including library databases, online catalogs, and even search engines like Google. It is important to learn these so that you will be able to quickly retrieve relevant information from the various sources. The goal of the next few tabs is to explain some of the basic searching tricks and techniques that will enable you to create a more effective (and successful) search phrase. Remember when you search a database and do not get the results you expect, please use Ask a Librarian for advice. I am happy to help you find what you need.
Boolean Operators (also referred to as logical operators or connectors) are words used to connect your search terms. Use these search techniques to either narrow or expand your search in a database.
AND: The operator AND will retrieve search results that contain all of the search terms used. Use AND to narrow your search by retrieving more specific results.
OR: The operator OR will retrieve search results that contain any of the search terms used. Use OR to expand your search by broadening the range of resources. OR is most useful when using synonyms as search terms.
NOT: The operator NOT will eliminate search results that contain a search term. Use NOT to narrow your results by excluding resources with a particular search term.
Keywords are the words you type into a search box to search for information on your topic. The words you use to describe your topic may be different from the words used in the library catalog and databases. We use natural language in conversations and searching the internet for information, but the library uses a controlled vocabulary for searching the catalog and databases. You can use keywords to find out the actual subject heading of your topic. For example, people recognize that WWII is commonly known as World War II, but in the catalog and databases the actual subject heading is World War (1939-1945). Once you discover the subject heading, use that term to locate more resources on that specific topic.
Combine keywords and subject headings to narrow your topic. If you do a search in the library catalog for World War II, you will find hundreds of books about that topic. But, you really only want to find information on World War II and African Americans. Use the keywords World War II AND African Americans to narrow your search to books that discuss those two concepts. If you are looking for other genders or races, use that term in place of African Americans.
Natural Language: Natural language searching is searching in full sentences or phrases, like you would ask a peron "how many months in a year?". Natural language is how most people search Google and other search engines, but this type of searching will not work well with Library Databases or OneSearch.
Keyword: Keyword searching is searching using individual words often taken from the key ideas in a Natural Language Search, or words from your research question. Keyword searching in databases usually searches the entire record or full text for your terms and will allow for a large number of results. This type of searching will help you find sources on your topic, but you will also find many irrelevant sources that have those same words in the source but the source is not helpful to your research. Using common words--words that have multiple meanings or contexts--will result in an overwhelming number of results. By adding additional keywords that are specific to your topic or subject will help focus your search and deliver more relevant sources.
Subject: Subject searches use specific predefined or "controlled vocabulary." Each database creates a customized list (like a thesaurus) of words that are used to tag similar information. By using Subject assigned terms, you will be able to find materials that may use historic terms, synonyms, regional spellings and other variations of a topic. Subject searches look only in the Subject Heading or descriptor field for those specific terms. Often you an discover the Subject terms from the results of a Keyword search: Once you find the actual subject of the topic, change your keyword search to a subject search for highly relevant sources.
Check out this tutorial from the Leonard Lief Library at Lehman College CUNY.