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XIDS 2002: Surveillance (Cormican)

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Strategic Searching

Your research question will largely determine the kinds of sources you need and how you search for them. Note that searching the library catalog or databases usually requires being more careful about your search terms and strategies (compared to when searching in Google). Though this can be frustrating, once you learn some simple strategies you will likely find it much easier to find scholarly sources through the Library's resources.

This page includes tips to help you develop a strategic search. The video below also discusses library research as a strategic process that often involves trial out various search terms and strategies.

Keyword Searching


Video on Developing Keywords from a Research Question (Irma Minerva):

Keywords are search terms that express the essence of your topic. They are crucial to an effective search, especially in library databases. Here are some tips for identifying keywords:

1. Be concise.
Begin with only 2-3 essential terms, and avoid long phrases. The more terms you enter the fewer results you’ll get. (For example, a search for environmental consequences of fracking may yield 0 results, while fracking environment yields over 2,000.)

2. Use synonyms and related terms.

If your first term doesn’t work, try a synonym. You may have to try out several related search terms to find the types of resources you're looking for.  (Example: environment INSTEAD OF environmental consequences)

3. Identify keywords with background research.

To identify useful keywords, do some quick background research. Note terms that are often used to discuss the topic. (Reference sources like Wikipedia or the library databases Credo Reference and Oxford Reference Online offer overviews of many topics. Of course, remember to evaluate information in Wikipedia with particular care since almost anyone can edit it.)

4. Identify keywords from search results.

Do a quick database search and view the search results page to identify relevant terms.

  • Titles and article abstracts (summaries) often include helpful terms. 
  • “Subject” terms are used in library databases describe what a source is about. Look in a database for relevant subject terms - they can help you locate more records on the topic.
5. Combine search terms.

In most databases you can refine results using the search functions AND, OR, and NOT.

  • AND: shows results that include both terms (e.g., government AND policy)
  • OR: shows results that include one or more terms; used for related terms (e.g., civic OR government)
  • NOT: removes results that include a term (e.g., Julius Caesar NOT Shakespeare)
 

General Strategies

Creating a Search Strategy

Video tutorialsearch strategy worksheet (Hunter College)


Narrowing or Broadening a Search

Too many results? Ways to broaden a search include: 
  • Combine more search terms using AND. 
  • Use more narrow search terms.
  • Use relevant search limiters (e.g., specify publication date or type, limit search terms by search fields like 'title').
  • Do not use OR or NOT. 

Too few results? Ways to narrow a search include:

  • Use fewer search terms.
  • Use broader search terms.
  • Remove search limiters.
  • Combine relevant search terms using OR or NOT.

More search tips for broadening or narrowing a search.

Trouble finding sources on your topic?

This video may help you rethink your search.

Keyword Activity

Name several keyword combinations that would help you find sources that address the question below. Then try them out in a library database.

Does the film Minority Report encourage viewers to passively accept or to actively challenge the ways that surveillance infringes on privacy?