Sometimes a simple keyword search with Boolean operators will not be enough to help you find exactly what you're looking for. You may need to step it up with some advanced search techniques to narrow or expand your search results.
Check the tabs above to help:
The default screen on the Academic Search Complete home page is a Basic Search:
In a Basic Search, you have just one search field. When performing a Basic Search, you need to connect keywords with Boolean operators (and, or, and not: click here for more information).
In contrast, an Advanced Search has three search fields, with the option to add more. Each field is already connected with and, though you can change the drop down boxes to select or or not:
Besides the number of search fields already connected with Boolean operators, the main difference between Basic and Advanced Searches is where the database will look for your search terms: that is, in which parts of the article the database will look for a match to your search terms.
In a Basic Search, you don't specify in which parts of the article the database should look for your search terms. A Basic Search will not look for your search terms in every single word of every single article.
Instead, a Basic Search looks for your search terms in the description of the article only: its title, subject terms, author-supplied keywords, abstract, and more (librarians call this metadata).
If you click on an article title in your results list, you'll see the parts of the article the database will search in a Basic Search:
Sometimes a Basic Search is not specific enough - the database is just blindly matching keywords, after all. The drawback of doing a Basic Search is that the database is indiscriminate. You could get a lot of "false positive" results, like this one:
An Advanced Search allows you to specify in which part of the article the database should look for your search terms. You have many options here:
You may not use many of these options. Here are some of the more helpful ones:
Select a Field (Optional) - this is the default setting of the drop-down boxes. If you leave the drop-down box on Select a Field, it will do the same thing as a Basic Search, and look for your search terms anywhere in the description of the article.
TX All Text - if you set the drop-down box to this option, the database will search the complete article, not just the description. This is handy when you're looking for a very specific search term that isn't likely to appear in article description.
AU Author - if you know the author of an article, you can search just the author field by setting the drop-down box to this option. You can enter just the author's last name. If you know the author's first and last names, though, enter the last name first (Example: Friedman, Thomas).
TI Title - this option will match your search terms to words in the title of an article.
You could use this option if you need to look up an article you previously accessed in the database. Simply enter the exact title (without punctuation), and you'll find the article again faster than if you searched with the same keywords you used to find the article originally.
AB Abstract - this option will search for your terms in just the abstract (summary) of articles. This can help bring back more relevant results, because if your search terms appear in the abstract of the article, it's a good bet the entire article will be focused on your topic.
SO Journal Name - this option allows you to specify the name of the publication that published the article (even though it says "Journal Name," it will work for newspapers and magazines, too). So if you're looking for articles written by Paul Krugman and published in the New York Times, the most accurate way to search would be:
If you find that a Basic Search is giving you too many results, or results that aren't relevant to your research topic, try using some of the field limiters on an Advanced Search page!
If one of your search terms is a phrase, put it in quotation marks. If not, the database will break the phrase up and search for the individual words, instead.
That can get frustrating, so use this simple tip: type phrases in quotation marks. This works in Google, too!
Let's say you're searching for articles about cap and trade programs that promise to combat climate change. If you just type in cap and trade, you get over 2600 full-text results:
However, if you type "cap and trade," instead, we'll get under 800 results:
The only difference between the two searches is quotation marks! The results in my second list are going to be a lot more relevant to my topic, since those articles include the phrase "cap and trade," rather than articles with the individual words.
Academic Search Complete allows you to search all the publications in the database, both those with full-text access and those that only list citations.
Citation access means we have information about the articles in the publication (title, author, publication date), but not the full article itself. Remember, if you ever find an article in the database that's not full text, contact a librarian to get the article for free through interlibrary loan.
The Publications search will tell you if the database carries a particular publication, and if so, what kind of access and date coverage is available for that publication. Or you can search for all publications on a particular topic and limit your search to one or more specific publications.
To access this feature, choose Publications from the ribbon at the top left of the page:
The Publications search screen looks like this:
You could use the alphabet menu to view the complete list of publications, but with over 8,000 different publications, it will be easier to use the browse feature.
There are two types of searches you can do:
To search for a specific publication, enter the publication name in the Browsing box and leave the bubble on Alphabetical. Then click Browse:
If the database contains the publication you're looking for, it will appear at the top of the results list, with similarly-named publications underneath. In this case, we've determined that Academic Search Complete DOES provide access to the New York Times:
The coverage dates tell us how much of the publication we have access to through the database. In this case, we only have citation access ("bibliographic records") for the New York Times and the New York Times Book Reivew back to 1985, and for the New York Times Magazine going back to 1985.
However, this record ALSO tells us that the SanJac Libraries have hard copies of the New York Times Book Review and the New York Times Magazines, so you could come look at it in the library.
For more information about the publication, including where it is published, the type of publication, if it is peer-reviewed, and other information, click on the publication title:
Use the 'Search within this publication' link at the top to search ALL articles in the database from the New York Times, or use the 'All issues' menu on the right to browse a specific issue (see every article in one particular issue):
You can also search for publications in the database that relate to a particular subject. For example, if you're interested in finding journals and other periodicals that relate to biology, you could perform the following search:
Be sure to change the bubble from 'Alphabetical' to 'By Subject & Description' before you perform this type of search.
The search for 'biology' returned 588 publications, all of them related to biology!
You can click on any of the titles for more details about the publication, like we saw with the New York Times above.
Or, to search within one or more of these publications, select the checkboxes of the ones you'd like to search:
Finish selecting the publications you'd like to search. Then click the Add button at the top of the list, and the publications will be added to the Search box at the top of the screen:
If you clicked the green "Search" button at this point, you'd see every article from those journals in the database.
But you can also add keywords to this search - just make sure to connect them with the word AND. You'll also need to put another set of parentheses around the publication names to keep those grouped together. (Click here for an explanation.)
In this case, I've added the keyword cancer to search for articles published in either Advances in Molecular Biology and Cell & Molecular Biology with the word "cancer" somewhere in the article description:
This search results in 34 articles:
There's a big difference between performing a Basic Search with keywords, and searching with Subject Terms. Read below for more information.
A keyword search can only get you so far: keyword searching is just word matching, and can bring back a lot of "false positives" - articles in your search results that have nothing to do with your topic, but happen to include your keywords.
Keyword searches are also imperfect because there are often multiple ways to describe one concept. For example, we hear the term "gay marriage" referred to with many different phrases: gay marriage, same-sex marriage, homosexual marriage, even phrases that are similar like civil union or domestic parternship.
With so many different terms, does it matter which term you use? YES!
Subject Term searching can be much more accuate than keyword searching because it makes use of a controlled vocabulary.
Librarians organize and classify information according to a controlled vocabulary. This means that we consistently use the same term to describe the same thing. If half the articles were described with the term gay marriage and the other half with same-sex marriage, you'd have to perform two searches to find everything relating to the same concept.
So how do you know which term is the correct one to use?
The Subject Terms feature of the databases allows you to find out which term the database "prefers," as well as construct a search from those preferred terms and subheadings.
You can also use a Subject Heading's "tree view" to get a sense of where your concept fits in with other concepts.
Scroll down for directions on using the Subject Terms to construct a database search, and tips on interpreting the way terms are displayed in a tree view.
The Subject Terms screen looks like this:
In addition to searching for the controlled vocabulary Subject Term, you can also search for the controlled vocabulary terms for Places and People.
In the Browsing search box, type in your search term. Change the bubble from Term Begins With to Relevancy Ranked, and click 'Browse.'
In this example, we want to see if gay marriage is the term we should use to search the database, or if we should use another similar phrase:
If your term is not in the controlled vocabulary, your results will tell you to Use: [preferred term], instead. In this case, we find that same-sex marriage, not gay marriage, is the preferred term:
For more information, click on the term for more information:
There are a few parts of this page that are helpful:
Scope Note: Describes what exactly is meant by the term, and when it should or should not be used.
Broader Terms, Narrower Terms, Related Terms: Terms that are less specific, more specific, or similar to the subject term. Scroll down to Interpreting the Tree View for more information.
Used for: These are the terms you should not use in a subject term search. Instead of gay marriage or homosexual marriage, you should use same-sex marriage, instead.
In this example, I've selected two different subject terms that have to do with obesity: obesity in adolescence and obesity in children:
Once you click 'Add,' the terms you selected will be transferred to the search box a the top of the screen. They will automatically be connected with the Boolean operator OR, which means the database will search for articles that have either subject term. You can change the drop-down box to AND or NOT, if you need to.
In order to get the most results possible, you could use the Explode feature in the Subject Terms search.
If you see a checkbox on the right side of the screen underneath the word 'Explode,' it means that term has narrower (more specific) terms. For example, the terms obesity in adolescence and obesity in children are narrower terms for obesity.
If you use the Explode checkbox, and then click 'Add,' the search field will be filled with both the subject term and its narrower terms. Here again, the terms are connected with OR, so the database is going to look for articles that have ANY ONE of these terms.
Once your search box is filled, simply click the green Search button to see your results.
Be careful, though: searching by exploding a subject term may be WAY too broad! The exploded search for obesity brings back over 50,000 results:
Of course we still need to set Full Text to make sure we have only complete articles, but even so, you'll need to narrow this down.
You can narrow your search results back down to fit your search criteria by adding another keyword, or by using some of the other ways to refine your search.
For example, if I add the keywords television and video games and specify that I would like Full Text articles, my search results will be refined to a much more manageable number:
Now I have 61 full text articles that include both the words televsion and video games somewhere in the description of the artice, and any one of the subject terms related to obesity.
When you search for a term in Subject Terms and click on any term, you'll get what's called a tree view.
A tree view gives you broader, narrower, and related terms for any term you've selected.
In the tree view for same-sex marriage below, marriage is the broadest term under which same-sex marriage could fit - it's like the trunk of the tree.
As you go down the list, the terms in the tree get more specific - like the trunk of a tree giving way to thinner branches. So gay male marriage and woman-to-woman marriage are narrower terms for same-sex marriage.
The related terms don't necessarily mean the same thing as same-sex marriage, but they may be similar or connected - they're on the same level of the tree.
So how might you use this tree view?
Truncation is a way of expanding your search results by searching for multiple variations on a word at the same time.
The Farmington State College Information Literacy Glossary defines truncation as "the ability to enter the first part of a keyword, insert a symbol (usually *), and accept any variant spellings or word endings, from the occurrence of the symbol forward."
So let's say you're doing some research on symbolism in Shakespeare's works. If you type into the database symbolism and Shakespeare, you'll get 51 full-text results:
However, there are a lot of words similar to "symbolism" that you could also use as keywords: symbol, symbolize, symbolized, etc.
In this database, a question mark symbol (?) will give you variations on a word where one letter is difference.
wom?n = woman, women, womyn
gr?y = gray, grey
You could also use the pound sign (#), which will give you variations on a word where one or more letter may be different. This is especially helpful where you might have Anglicized variations:
colo#r = color, colour
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