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Education Research (Master's)

Learning Objectives

  • Students will discover several limiting factors in order to narrow or broaden a research topic as needed.
  • Students will analyze a search question in order to determine keywords to use in a search.
  • Students will apply several search techniques in order to retrieve results more effectively and efficiently.

Narrow / Broaden Topic

Narrow Topic

Many times when you do a search for your topic, you will yield too many or too few results.

If you get too many hits and can go in a lot of different directions with your topic, you may need to narrow your focus. You can narrow your topic by adding additional restrictions.

Some of the ways in which a topic can be narrowed are by limiting it to a:

  • specific time period or era (e.g., 20th century; the Harlem Renaissance)

  • specific population or group (e.g., adult learners; Asian-American students)

  • geographic region (e.g., Southwest; Latin America)
  • specific discipline or focus such as legal, economic, historical …

 

Broaden Topic
If you get too few results from a search and can’t find much information about your topic, you may need to broaden your focus. You can broaden your topic by choosing a less specific or an alternative time period, population, geographic area, or discipline.  Or you can eliminate that limit altogether. You can also broaden a topic by choosing a more general term – e.g., performance enhancing drugs rather than anabolic steroids.

Choosing Keywords

Despite all the advances in web and database searching, computers still don't do well with meaning.

When you type a word into a search box, the computer looks only for the word you typed, not the concept you had in mind. To you, that word is an idea. To the computer, that word is a bunch of letters. 

So, the burden is on you, the researcher, to choose the best keywords to search with. The keywords you choose have a direct and measurable effect on the results you get back. Even a small change in your keywords can lead to a big change in results.

The great benefit of keyword searching is the precision. You can develop focused, precise searches in a library database, and get exactly what you need. It just takes some practice to become an expert searcher.

The first step in thinking of keywords is to define your topic. You can't research or write about a topic if you can't articulate what it is! Try writing your topic down as a sentence or a question. One you have your statement, pull out he most important words. Hint: look at the nouns.

Think of keywords to describe each concept involved in your topic. Think of more than one, in case your first choice does not work. Focus on synonyms and related terms. What are other ways to state your topic? Is there a specific word that will describe an abstract concept in your topic?

Sample topic: Is distance education an effective choice for adults?

Concept 1: distance education

Alternative Terms: online education, online courses, web-based courses, web-based education

Concept 2: adults

Alternative Terms: non-traditional students, adult learners, adult students


Search Techniques

Searches of computerized resources are more effective if you know how to "talk to" the computer systems. Communicating with these systems requires knowing certain basic search techniques. Because these techniques are so important for getting good search results, you should take the time to understand them -- and use them. They will vastly improve your search results in information services and when searching the Internet.

Whenever you begin to use a new computerized resource, look for "help" (or "search tips" or "instructions") that will tell you which of these search techniques is available in the resource and how to apply them in the specific resource you are using.

The search techniques introduced on this webpage are: Boolean operators, phrase searching, truncation/wildcards, and nesting.


Boolean Operators

Connectors or operators are used to tell the computer how to combine the words you want to search. The Boolean operators "AND", "OR", and "NOT" are described below.

AND

Use the connector "and" to tell the system that both terms are needed to describe the subject. That is, both terms must occur in the description of the article. For example, to search the topic "censorship of music" connect the keywords with "and" by typing:

censorship and music

Both the word "censorship" and the word "music" will be in the items found.

Additional examples:

firearms and legislation
divorce and statistics and dakota

OR

Use the connector "or" to tell the system that either one word or the other must appear in the description of the item. (This connector is used where alternative words may be used to describe the same subject). For example, if you type:

bones or skeleton

Either the word "bones" or the word "skeleton" will be in the items found.

Additional examples:

mice or mouse
farms or ranches

NOT

Use the connector "not" to find items that have one word and do not have the other word. The second word cannot appear anywhere in the item. For example, to search for items about "aids" when you don't want the disease AIDS, type:

aids not disease

The items found will contain the word "aids" but not the word "disease."

Additional examples:

guns not hunting
albums not photograph

Note: Some search engines require that the Boolean operator be capitalized: AND, OR, NOT


Phrase Searching

Some systems allow phrase searching. If you enter two or more words in a row, they will be searched as a phrase. Or the system provides a method for you to indicate that you want a phrase searched.

Most search systems now use quotation marks to indicate a phrase search. For example, to search for two words side-by-side, you would type:

          "sex discrimination"

Other search systems require the use of some sort of connector word. Here are two different ways used to indicate phrases in two different search systems:

sex w discrimination
sex ADJ discrimination

However, in some systems, to search for the phrase "sex discrimination," you just type:

sex discrimination

To know for sure what method is used in any given research database (or in a web search engine), you'll need to look for a "help" link in the database. However, most library databases now use quote marks.

Truncation/Wildcard

Save typing by using special symbols or "wild card" characters.

For example, instead of doing the search:

educator or educators or educational or education or educate

use the "root word" (the letters these words have in common) along with a "wildcard character" accepted by the search system. For example:

educat*

Truncation or wildcard characters are different in different systems, so be sure to use the correct wildcard character. For example, here are two different systems' ways of doing this search....

In Proquest: educat*
In Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe: educat!

Save typing by using special symbols or "wild card" characters.

For example, instead of doing the search:

educator or educators or educational or education or educate

use the "root word" (the letters these words have in common) along with a "wildcard character" accepted by the search system. For example:

educat*

Truncation or wildcard characters are different in different systems, so be sure to use the correct wildcard character. For example, here are two different systems' ways of doing this search....

In Proquest: educat*
In Lexis-Nexis Academic Universe: educat!

 

 


Nesting

Nesting is the use of parenthesis to separate parts of your search phrase, thereby letting the computer know the order by which it is to conduct the search.          

         For example you want information on pest and weed control for tomatoes. You could perform two searches

               tomato AND pest and tomato AND weed

         By nesting, however, you can combine these searches into one. You need the term tomato and you also want the term pest or the term weed. By        combining the terms, your search query will look like this

               tomato AND (pest OR weed)

         The computer will first find all sources with the term pest or weed. Then it will limit those results to the items that also contain tomato. If you did not use  the parenthesis, a search for tomato AND pest OR weed may have brought back the results you wanted or it may have brought back the terms tomato and pest plus those that had weed without tomato. It is important to tell the database exactly how to perform your search. They each have a standard format on how they will react to the search terms. By using these search techniques, you are making sure the computer searches as you want it to.

 

 

 

Search Techniques

This video presents four different search techniques that can be used when searching databases. Time 7:56

Karl E. Mundt Library, Dakota State University, Madison, South Dakota 57042
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