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Library and Information Science

Search tips - advanced search

On this page, you will find information on search strategies and other tips that can help you to retrieve better search results from databases and other search tools.

Search strategies

Here you find examples of some search strategies to use when you are searching for information. It is often a good method to begin the search process with basic test searches before moving on to more structured search strategies. You will find more about the information searching process at the page Search tips in this guide.

  • Building blocks
    Identify the key terms of your topic or research question. Group the terms into blocks with synonyms, terms with similar meanings, broader terms, narrower terms etc. for each term, then combine the blocks with each other. See the example below. 
  • Using the search history
    Most databases list your searches in the search history which gives you an overview of your searches and search results. You can use the search history to combine searches with each other and use different combinations. In most databases, you can set up a personal account where you can save, retrieve, and reuse searches. See the example below.
  • Pearl growing (chaining)
    Start with a highly relevant document, the "pearl". Make further searches on information that this document provides such as subject terms, author names, references, citations, or "related articles". One key document can help you to find more relevant documents. See the example below.
    See also the film on this page "Cited reference search" about searching citations in Google Scholar and in citations databases like Scopus and Web of Science.

Search strategy - Building blocks

This is an example of a building blocks search in the database ABI/INFORM Collection where Boolean operators, truncation, and phrase search has been used. Each row (block) contains terms that are related to each other: terms that have to do with product quality and terms that have to do with consumer perspective - with the search operator OR between each term. The blocks are combined with the search operator AND between the rows.

It is important that each block is put into separate rows in the search form. It is dificult to use several search operators in one and the same row  (like in this example, AND and OR). If you still want to do this, you have to separate the blocks with parentheses:
("product quality" OR "quality of products") AND ("consumer* perspective" OR "consumer* perception" )
This search will give the same search results as the one in the search form above.

This method of presenting search strings by using parentheses is suitable to use if you have to present your searches, for example when you are writing a literature review. 

Search strategy - Using the search history

This is an example where the search history has been used as a search strategy in the database Business Source Premier. It shows searches on single terms and how the functionalities in the database have been used to combine the searches with OR and with AND into more complex search strings. This search strategy lets you perform highly structured searches. You can view the results from every search and evaluate the relevance of each search term. 



Search strategy - Pearl growing (chaining)

Start with highly relevant documents, the "pearls" that you already have found. Perform further searches from information available in these documents and in their database records. Use information like keywords, subject headings, author names, references, citations and related documents.  
Use the bibliography ("View references") to chain information backwards - use the citations ("View citing documents") to chain information forewards.

Proximity operators

Several databases allow you to use proximity operators to search for terms close to each other in titles, abstracts, and full texts.

Use proximity operators when a search with AND textiles AND substrates is too broad while a phrase search ”textile substrates” is too narrow.
The proximity search textile W/5 substrates give results with both the words in any order, with up to 5 words between them. Such a search will cover formulations like:

textile substrates
textiles and other substrates
substrates such as textiles

Often, there are also proximity operators for searching terms close to each other in a specified order, with up to a specified number of words between them. Example breast PRE/1 pocket covers both breast pocket och breast welt pocket.

Proximity operators are expressed differently in different databases:

Search example - Proximity operators

This is an example of the building blocks search in the database Scopus with proximity operators, Boolean operators, truncation, and phrase search used. With two different search operators, OR and W/3, in one row, it is important to separate the "OR-part" with parentheses (read about building blocks and using parentheses above).

Google Translate Widget

Thesaurus search

This film is about how you can use thesauruses (controlled keywords) in ProQuest databases, like the database ABI/INFORM Collection, to conduct effective searches.

A film by ProQuest (2:51 min.)

Cited reference search

A film from the University of Chicago Library (2:05 min)