Effective retrieval of relevant information about concepts related to a research question involves an iterative process of query and refinement to produce a search statement with the greatest chances of identifying the best sources. The the database query and refinement process, the researcher must evaluate record relevance and whether it is necessary to continue refining search terms and searching.
Beware of how search defaults are set, librarians set them in ways that are not always apparent to the user.
Using Boolean operators for key-word search statements is the most effective search strategy for modern search engines (AND, OR, NOT), linking synonyms with ORs and linking groups of synonyms with ANDs, and truncation/stem symbol (*) as a wildcard.
(1) Consider using a database research log to keep track of your searches (a table with column labels Date, Database, search strings, results/comments).
(2) A Scholarly Research Log is a way of recording and organizing the important information from each resource for a comprehensive literature review. Typical fields include:
• Research question, models or theories used
• Research methodology (of the study)
• (Brief Notes on) Findings
(3) Research Question (ex: “What effects does job satisfaction have on creativity and innovation?”)
(4) Select a concept from the research question (ex: job, satisfaction, creativity, innovation);
(5) Identify several correct terms to describe the concept, using self-selected key words, the [database key word] index, or the [search engine] thesaurus;
(6) Link these synonyms with OR (ex:(job OR employment OR work OR employee OR worker);
(7) Do some searches
(8) In the articles reviewed, note which authors are frequently referenced, and see what key words the authors or the database use for articles that look useful. You can also do this for articles that you *know* are pertinent that you have located by other means;
(9) Remove the “full text” limit of the database to see more articles (you might be able to obtain them from another database)
(10) Consider restricting databases used by aggregate search tools such as ProQuest and EBSCO Host;
(11) Narrowing a search: If you get too many results you need to narrow your search:
Use more specific keywords, e.g. a particular type of crime Restrict the fields searched, e.g. title field only. Many databases provide explicit narrowing options. Other examples:
• Restrict by language, e.g. English only.
• Restrict by publication date
• Restrict by document type (bibliographic databases) e.g. peer-reviewed journal articles only, patents, or reviews.
(12) Look for review articles or meta-analyses because they are a good introduction to a subject, bringing together everything that is known at a particular point in time; they also have long reference lists. If the bibliographic database you are using does not allow you to limit to reviews, you can use “review” as a keyword in your search.
(13) Repeat steps 1-3 for additional concepts until all concepts from the research question are defined;
(14) Link groups of [similar] terms for each concept with AND to find the common records -> (job OR employment OR work OR employee OR worker) AND (satisfaction OR morale OR enjoyment) AND (creativity OR imagination OR creative) AND (innovat*);
(15) Evaluate the suitability of the records obtained, look for additional key words or articles/key words to exclude with the NOT Boolean operator;
(16) Rework any inappropriate concept terms by repeating steps 2 and 3; and
(17) Repeat steps 5 and 6 and continue until most of the records retrieved are related to the assigned topic. 340 (in Debowski et al., 2001)
(18) Search backward from applicable sources using their reference section or forward to see who has referenced particularly useful sources to see what the latest research is (Snowball method)
Bibliographic Mining (reviewing a sources references, can sometimes be done within a database) and Cited Reference Searching (finds articles that reference the source, also a feature of many databases) are search techniques which allow you to trace the history of an idea captured in an article, backwards and forwards from its publication date. This helps you find more articles on your topic, including seminal articles.
Searching by Research Methodology
• Some databases allow searching by methodology
• Search strings “qualitative" or "case study” or “qualitative" not "quantitative”
- Goodman, J. S., Gary, M. S., & Wood, R. E. (2014). Bibliographic Search Training for Evidence-Based Management Education: A Review of Relevant Literatures. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 13(3), 322–353. doi:10.5465/amle.2013.0188
- GW Library Tutoring Session - 23 June 2014
- University of Birmingham: Effective Search Techniques
- Finding Resources for your Literature Review: Leaving No Stone Unturned