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Search Techniques: Search tips: Improving your results

Online support for developing effective online search techniques

Search tips

Use the tips below to help improve your searching. By applying these techniques, you can increase, reduce or improve the relevancy of your search results, making it easier to access to the right materials. 

Increase your search results

Truncation is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings.

To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end.

The database will return results that include any ending of that root word.

The asterisk * symbol is most commonly used for truncation. However, check out the help screens as  !, ?, or # may also be used.

For example:

entrepreneur* will find entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial etc.

child* will find child, childrenchildlikechildhood etc.

Use it with care to avoid finding too many alternatives.

Wildcards are similar to truncation but they are used to substitute for a single letter or no letter in a word.

They are useful for irregular plurals and for British/American English spellings.

They broaden your search by including variant word spellings.

The question mark symbol is most commonly used. However, check out the help screens as  ! , *, or # may also be used. 

For example:

wom?n will find woman and women

optimi?ation will find optimisation and optimization

model?ing will find modeling and modelling

Proximity searching can help to both increase or narrow your results. It can increase your results when "phrase searching" is too restrictive.

 

WITHIN Operator - Wx

Finds words within x number of words from each other, in the order they were entered.

Substitute the x with the number of words that may appear between  
 

ExampleHillary w2 Clinton 

Would find Hillary Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton

Would not find Clinton, Hillary


 

NEAR Operator - Nx

Finds words within x number of words from each other. Words may appear in any order.

Substitute the x with a number of words that may appear in between

NEARx5 would be likely to be in the same sentence; NEARx50 in the same paragraph

Example: election* n5 parliament*

Would find parliamentary elections and election to Parliament

Would not find 'election debates can be very confrontational and hard fought, especially those between parliamentary candidates' 

Reduce your search results

Phrase searching is the most limiting technique as it is used to specify that your terms must appear next to each other, and in the order you specify.

Phrase searching is commonly achieved by surrounding your phrase with quotation marks.

Always check the Database Help screens, as some databases may use different symbols.

Phrase searching examples:

"World Trade Organization"

"influencer marketing"

Proximity searching can help to both increase or narrow your results. It can increase your results when "phrase searching" is too restrictive.

 

WITHIN Operator - Wx

Finds words within x number of words from each other, in the order they were entered.

Substitute the x with the number of words that may appear between  
 

ExampleHillary w2 Clinton 

Would find Hillary Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton

Would not find Clinton, Hillary


 

NEAR Operator - Nx

Finds words within x number of words from each other. Words may appear in any order.

Substitute the x with a number of words that may appear in between

NEARx5 would be likely to be in the same sentence; NEARx50 in the same paragraph

Example: election* n5 parliament*

Would find parliamentary elections and election to Parliament

Would not find 'election debates can be very confrontational and hard fought, especially those between parliamentary candidates' 

Find more relevant results: Field searching

What are database fields?

Records in library catalogues and online databases are made up of fields containing pieces of bibliographic information which describe the item in details.

Fields differ between databases but common fields include:

  • author
  • title
  • journal title
  • abstract
  • publisher
  • date/year of publication
  • subject/descriptor

Why use field searching?

Field searching makes more search more focused and can be useful if you are overwhelmed by search results.

If you do not use field searching, databases usually run a keyword search against the full database record, leading to a very wide search.

For example, a keyword search for William Shakespeare will find items authored by William Shakespeare but also items that are about Shakespeare and his work.  An Author Search for William Shakespeare would be a more limited search.

You will usually need to use the Advanced Search option to easily access the field searching options.  

You can combine multiple fields using the boolean ANDORNOT operators.

The screenshot below illustrates field searching in the Business Source Complete database.

Note the wide choice of fields and how you can search across multiple fields for relevant content.  As Business Source Complete holds business related information it has a number of fields appropriate to that discipline.  You will find different fields in databases from other disciplines

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