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Educational Leadership & Policy Studies (ELPS)

Developing Search Terms

  1. Once you have chosen a topic, write it down in the form of a question or brief statement:
    • What is the relationship between SAT scores and college success?
  2. Pull out the keywords and phrases that are most specific to your topic:
    • "SAT scores" and "college success"
  3. Take those keywords and phrases, or concepts, and brainstorm related terms (synonyms and sometimes antonyms)
    • SAT scores > "scholastic aptitude test" or "college admission test"
    • college > "university" or "higher education"
    • success > achievement
  4. Create a few possible queries to enter into the search window by combining your keywords/phrases with Boolean operators, truncation, etc.  (See boxes below for more explanation of Boolean operators, truncation, and more)
    • (SAT OR "scholastic aptitude test") AND (college OR universit*) AND (succe* OR achieve*)
  5. Test the queries in OneSearch and/or databases to see if relevant articles come up and if the searches are too narrow or too broad.  Note any other better alternative terms from subject headings and abstracts and redo searches with them.  Use the database thesaurus to find subject headings and related terms to make your search more specific. 

Using Search Limiters: Keyword vs. Subject

Keyword Searching

  • Your topic itself may prove to be the words that make up your search term(s). 
  • Keywords searches look for that search term(s) in the title, subject, author, summary or abstract fields.
  • Keywords will also be searched for repetition in the document.  Keywords found frequently or throughout an article may push that article higher in the search results.
  • Keywords matches do not distinguish between context and purpose.  It may match the correct word but not in the context you want.

Subject Searching 

  • A subject search will locate materials by using a controlled vocabulary or standard list of subject terms. 
  • The number of results may vary widely.  Some searches will retrieve hundreds of results but if you choose a nonexistent subject term you may get nothing.  
  • If you do not know the appropriate subject heading for your topic, conduct a keyword search first and look at the subject heading(s) for relevant items.  

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators are words (or, and, not) used to connect search terms to expand or narrow a search within a database to locate relevant information.

It is helpful to diagram the effects of these operators:

women or females

women or females

Or retrieves records that contain any of the search terms. It expands the search. Therefore, use "or" in between terms that have the same meaning (synonyms) or equal value to the search.

OR Gives You More

women and media

women and media

And retrieves records that contain all of the search terms. It narrows or limits the search. Therefore, use "and" in between terms that are required to make the search specific.

AND Does Not Expand

image not weight

Not eliminates records that contain a search term. It narrows or limits the search. Therefore, use "not" in front of a term to ensure that the search will not include that term. Warning: Some databases use "and not" instead of "not." Check the database help screen.

 

Truncation

Most databases allow for a symbol to be used at the end of a word to retrieve variant endings of that word. This is known as truncation.

Using truncation will broaden your search. For example,

bank* will retrieve: bank or banks or banking or banker or bankruptcy, etc.

Databases and Internet search engines use different symbols to truncate. In general, most of the Library's databases use the asterisk (*) ; however, the exclamation point (!) is used in LexisNexis. Check the database help screen to find the correct truncation symbol.

Be careful using truncation. Truncating after too few letters will retrieve terms that are not relevant. For example:

cat* will also retrieve cataclysm, catacomb, catalepsy, catalog, etc.

It's best to use the boolean operator "or" in these instances (cat or cats).

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