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JOUR282 - Beyond Facebook: How Social Media are Transforming Society, Business, Culture and Politics

Resources to support Journalism 289F

Searching Made Easy

Here are five simple steps to remember when searching for information on your topic:

  1. Clarify the information needed
  2. Identify the Relevant Databases
  3. Formulate the Search
  4. Enter Search Statements
  5. View Results/Modify Search

Step 1: Clarify the Information Needed

Ask yourself:

  • How MUCH information do you need
    • The amount of information
    • How recent is it
  • What KIND of information do you need
    • Data
    • directory information
    • numeric
    • full-text articles
    • books

Step 2: Indentify The Relevant Sources

In this step, think about the purpose of your search and whether you need to search for scholarly resources or use the World Wide Web.

Scholarly resources include those listed in Database Finder or identified in the Other Sources of Information section of this guide.

World Wide Web resources can be found using a search engine such as Google.  [NOTE: Before using Google, try reviewing their search hints handout.]

Step 3: Create a Search Strategy

Most search engines are not designed to interpret a "natural language" search (that is, they will not understand a search entered in the form of a question or statement).

In order to retrieve more relevant resuts, identify the main concepts in your research question.  Next, brainstorm for synonyms and related words.  For example, you could use Terrapins but someone else might use the term Terps; in order to find all of the relevant results you will have to use both terms.

Boolean operators are used to connect keywords in a way that all search engines understand. The most commonly used ones are: AND and OR.

Boolean operators visual aid

Be careful combining AND and OR in the same search sentence as the search engine may not interpret your search the way you intend because of the order of operations (like in math class). Use parentheses to keep ORs together. 

Example: Maryland AND (Terps OR Terrapins)

You may also choose to limit your search results by excluding certain terms. To do this, use NOT. For example, if you want articles about a certain journalist's career but not editorials about them, you could search:

(Cronkite AND career) NOT editorials. 

Use the NOT connector sparingly, as you may eliminate some articles or information that could be useful. This connector can, however, be a helpful tool if you have a large number of items in your results list and you want to refine your search.

Steps 4 and 5: Enter Search Statements and Evaluate Your Results

These last two steps are often taken together:

Step 4: Follow the instructions for the database/resource you are using to enter search statements and retrieve results
(Note: Accurate keyboarding skills are helpful here!)

Step 5: A step often missed by searchers, here are some tips to help make your results work for you:

If you find TOO MUCH information, you may need to NARROW your search. Try this:

  • Add more topics (use AND)
  • Restrict to certain years
  • Omit variant spellings (plurals, British spelling)
  • Use more specific terms for concepts
  • Limit to title/descriptors
  • Limit by language, year, publication type, etc.

If you find TOO LITTLE information, you may need to BROADEN your search. Try this:

  • Combine more synonyms (use OR)
  • Remove restriction by date/language
  • Include variant spellings
  • Search full-text if possible
  • Use terms that are more general

If you find NOTHING on your topic, ask yourself:

  • Are you in the right place (search engine, database) for what you’re searching?

and review your search for:

  • Misspelled words
  • Not enough synonyms used (add concepts with OR)
  • Too many concepts linked together (too many ANDs)

If what you FIND is not what you WANT, ask yourself:

  • Could I be more SPECIFIC in what I want?
  • Did I try to use an OR (broaden) when I meant to use AND (narrow)?
  • Are there any other terms to describe the topics I have chosen?
  • Am I in the correct database?
  • Is it possible there could be nothing on this topic?