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ENGR 1201: Sharpen Your Search

START WITH THE RESEARCH QUESTION OR TOPIC

LOOK AT YOUR RESEARCH QUESTION

Sample: Is the Corps of Engineers at fault with the collapse of the levees in New Orleans? Should we be rebuilding the levees at all? What is the question asking? Do you have any preexisting knowledge of the topic?


IDENTIFY ANY RESTRICTIONS
Look for information like locations, dates, demographics. These can be used as part of the searching or refining. 

 Is the Corps of Engineers at fault with the collapse of the levees in New Orleans? Should we be rebuilding the levees at all? 


IDENTIFY KEY CONCEPTS
Look for words and phrases that express the main ideas. 

Is the Corps of Engineers at fault with the collapse of the levees in New Orleans? Should we be rebuilding the levees at all? 


USE SYNONYMS TO EXPAND RESULTS 

Using synonyms for search terms can retrieve additional relevant results.

E.g. Collapse = break, breach, topple, fall
 

USE BOOLEAN OPERATORS TO COMBINE SEARCH KEYWORDS & PHRASES

Combine keywords and phrases with AND

By combining keywords and phrases with AND, we are search for both together. For example:

 “hurricane katrina” AND levees |  "new orleans levees" AND engineer*


Search similar ideas with OR

Use OR to search for synonyms or similar ideas. It expands the search to offer results from either terms. For example:

"new orleans levees" AND collapse OR breach


Use NOT to exclude terms from your search results
Using NOT excludes results that you do not want included in your search, providing narrower results. I

"new orleans levees" AND "hurricane katrina" NOT "hurricane rita" | "new orleans levees" AND engineer* NOT fema

USE DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO CONDUCTING YOUR SEARCH

PHRASE SEARCH

To search an exact phrase, enclose the terms inside “quotation marks.” If the phrase is typed without quotation marks, the search results will include each word individually. This creates a massive number of irrelevant results. 

“New orleans levees” |  “corps of engineers”  “hurricane katrina”


TRUNCATED SEARCH

Use an asterisk * to shorten a term to include variations. 

engineer* = engineers, engineering, engineered  |  ethic* = ethic, ethics, ethical, ethically

*Not every word is conducive for truncation. For example, stor* will return results with story, store, storm, and storage.


WILDCARD SEARCH

Wildcard searching uses a question mark ? to substitute for one letter. This is useful for maximizing searches with terms like wom?n, which will return results including woman and women. Another example: engineer? = engineers but not engineered or engineering
 

SEARCH RESULTS

REVIEW AND REFINE RESULTS
  • Refine search results using database tools (e.g. date range, publication type, subject)
  • Always refer to the specific assignment (Are there requirements for the number of review and research articles? Age of research?)
  • Note “cited by” and “cited in” references to expand your resources
  • Note subject terms and keywords in the article record - these can lead to additional ways to refine or revise your search

SEARCH TIPS

CREATE A PERSONAL ACCOUNT

Create personal accounts in frequently used databases to save searches and schedule alerts for specific topics.


IT TAKES MORE THAN ONE SEARCH

Be patient and give yourself ample time to explore your topic in different ways and in various databases.


LOOK OUT FOR MULTI-USE ACRONYMS

Acronyms that have more than one use can return large numbers of irrelevant results.

SST = Supersonic transport, Smart systems and technologies, sea surface temperature


DATABASE SEARCH TIPS

Databases have different rules related to searching. They will typically have an easily accessible guide and/or indicate when a particular search type in invalid.
 

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