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Art History and Visual Culture: Finding and using library resources for assignments: 4. How do I search effectively?

For effective online searching you need to invest time up front to develop a search strategy using a range of search techniques.

Keywords and advanced search techniques

Before you start searching, spend some time defining your research topic. Ask yourself, what is it that you want to find out? What search terms or keywords will find this information?

Use whatever technique works best for you - e.g. brainstorming, words lists or mind maps etc. can help you think around your topic and identify all possible search concepts and terms. 

 

Once you have identified your keywords and synonyms, it is really useful to organise them by concept. This will enable you to combine your keywords and carry out complex searches in one go (see next tab).

You may find it useful to use a table or circle. For example:

“How do questions of identity raise issues of power relations in the modern world?"

                           

The keywords have been organised by concept. As you can see, the keywords have been picked from the essay title itself but you can expand on them.

 
It is possible to use a number of different keywords in a single search, by using operators.
 

The three most commonly used operators are ANDORNOT.  These are known as Boolean operators. They can be used to broaden or narrow a search and to exclude unwanted concepts.

 


These techniques will improve the relevancy of your results by only returning results that match your instructions. 

NOTE:

  • To increase number of results = Use truncation, wild cards and brackets
  • To decrease the number of results = Use phrase searching and multiple keywords

If we use the original essay example, a typical search may look like this:

How do questions of identity raise issues of power relations in the modern world?”.

                                

Evaluating sources

The ability to evaluate the academic quality of the information you find is a core aspect of scholarly research. 

This is particularly important when searching online and using tools like Google. While textbooks and academic journals will likely have gone through a rigorous review and editing process, there are no such guarantees for much of the information you can find online.

The CRAAP test provides simple criteria for judging the academic quality of information. By asking some questions of the sources you encounter, you can successfully boost the quality of information you use in your work.

The five main CRAAP test criteria are:

  • Currency
  • Relevancy
  • Accuracy
  • Authority
  • Purpose

In an age of misinformation and fake-news, the ability to  evaluate the quality of the information we find has never been more important. 

Currency: the timeliness of the information

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
  • Are the web links functional?

Relevancy: the importance of the information for your needs

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate academic level?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research paper?

Accuracy: the reliability and correctness of the content

  • Is the information supported by evidence (e.g. references, research data)?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?

Authority: the source of the information 

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • What are the author's credentials or organisational affiliations?
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net

Purpose: the reason the information exists

  • What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?
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