Database searching is NOT like Google! Most do not support natural language searching. You have to be precise in the words that you select.
Developing a good search strategy is important
Answer the following questions:
- what is your assignment?
- what is the main topic?
- who has an interest in that topic?
- what other language might they be using to talk about that topic? do they spell it differently?
- when was it relevant? is it a new idea, or a long standing issue?
- what other factors play into your issue? geography, government, people, etc.
Step 1: Write your topic out in sentence or question form
- How is African slavery portrayed in African writing?
Step 2: Break your topic sentence up into main ideas or keywords
- Africa, slavery, writing
Step 3: Think of synonyms or alternate words to describe each concept
- writing - literature
Tip: Use dictionaries, encyclopedias, or a thesaurus to find alternate words.
Step 4: Add "Boolean operators" (AND, OR) to make a complete search statement
- Use AND to limit or narrow your search to results that mention all of your keywords.
- Use OR to broaden your search to include synonyms.
- Africa AND slavery AND writing
- Africa AND slavery AND (writing OR literature) - Note: OR terms must be bracketed.
Step 5: Add wildcards to search for all possible word endings
A wildcard is usually represented by a *. This is also called truncation.
- (writ* OR literature) AND Africa* AND slave*
Step 6: Consider Key Phrase searching
Some databases search each word separately. To ensure that your words are evaluated as a key phrase, enclose them in double quotation marks.
- "human rights"
Step 7: Evaluate your results
If you are finding too many or too few results, try these tricks:
To broaden your search (find more):
- Find synonym for each keyword.
- Search for a broader concept ('dog' instead of 'poodle').
- Use wildcards/truncation.
To narrow your search (find fewer):
- Add another concept or idea to your search with AND
- Use more specific words ('poodle' instead of 'dog').