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English Communication: Database search tips

Use this guide to explore resources relating to the study of English & Creative Writing at Khalifa University

Searching databases using key terms

Searching databases using keywords

·         Keywords are those words and phrases which best describe your topic, such as:
“climate change”

·         Think about other words, also known as synonyms, which may be used to describe your topic, such as:
“global warming”

·         If there are several phrases which describe your topic you will need to link them with a connecting word. The most common connecting words are AND, OR and NOT. These are also known as Boolean operators

Using AND, OR and NOT

·         AND narrows your search, as all the keywords need to be found in the articles for the database to find them.
e.g. “climate change” AND “environment” - only articles which contain both key phrases will be found by the database.
You can also use AND to refine your search if you need to incrementally add concepts.
e.g. “climate change” AND environment AND consumption

·         OR broadens your search, as items in the database which contain any of the keywords will be found.
e.g. “climate change” OR “global warming” - the databases will find articles which contain either one or both of the key terms. OR is a good connecting word when you have synonyms you wish to incorporate into your search strategy.

·         NOT narrows your search, as it tells the database to exclude articles which contain the key word which follows the NOT.
e.g. consumption NOT tuberculosis - only articles which contain the word consumption but not the word tuberculosis will be found by the database. (Consumption was the name that used to be given to the disease tuberculosis, but used in this context, the key word consumption does not describe your topic. Adding the “not tuberculosis” should stop such irrelevant articles being retrieved.)

Truncation and Wildcards

A truncator is a symbol you can use at the end of a key word to represent the different ways the keyword might appear in the database. Individual databases may use different symbols as a truncator. Check the help option of the database you are using to find out what truncator symbols it uses. The symbol that is commonly used is the asterisk *.

e.g. environ* - will be understood by the database as meaning “environs” “environment” “environments” “environmental” “environmentally” or any other variation of this word with the stem “environ”.

A wildcard is a symbol you can use to replace a letter within your keyword. Wildcard symbols vary from database to database. When you are using a new database, check the help option, which will detail what the wildcard symbol is for that particular database. It may be an asterisk (*), a dollar sign ($) or a question mark (?).

e.g. behavio*r – will be understood by the database as meaning “behaviour” or “behavior” thus accommodating different spelling of this word.

Bringing it all together

You can combine all the elements described above to create a search strategy.

e.g. (“climate change” OR “global warming”) AND environ* AND consum* AND behavio*r

Always be prepared to rethink your strategy. If you have many elements to your search and you retrieve nothing, you can try starting with just one keyword, then adding other keywords incrementally. In this way, you can identify which keyword is confounding your search, and think of an alternative keyword for it.

Evaluating websites

The Internet contains a huge amount of information and anyone can publish anything on the web. The credibility of your research rests on the credibility of the resources you have used to support your arguments.

EVALUATE your web resources carefully before including them in your research materials.

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