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Research Basics

Keywords vs. Subject Terms

It is important to perform searches using the correct language and terminology to yield the best results. Keywords are natural language search terms, including phrases. Frequently, when performing a keyword search, people enter their first idea about a topic or a word or phrase from their thesis statement or main idea behind their research. While this type of searching will likely produce some results, subject headings will likely produce more accurate and useful results. Subject headings are the terminology that field-specific and information professionals use to describe ideas. Searching with subject headings (which are often listed on the detailed record of articles and other resources) will produce results that are more likely to be in the intended field of study, scholarly rather than popular sources.  An example of this would be the concept of "high blood pressure"; popular sources would use that keyword phrase, but professional medical sources would use the subject heading "hypertension".

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators assist in the search process by establishing a special link between two or more words or phrases. Boolean operators are:

  • AND - Example: looking for a link between low blood pressure and heart disease, you would search: "low blood pressure" AND "heart disease". This search would return all results that contain information about both topics.
  • OR - Example: looking for any information available about different types of skin cancer, you would search: "skin cancer" OR "melanoma" OR "basal cell carcinoma" OR "squamous cell carcinoma". This search would return all results that contain information about any of these topics.
  • NOT - Example: comparing Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, but don't want to include information about gestational diabetes, you would search: diabetes NOT gestational. This search would return all search results for diabetes, but eliminate search results that contain information about gestational diabetes.

Remember when using a search phrase to put the phrase between quotation marks so the search recognizes the phrase as a single search term.

Search Limiters

Search limiters are used to narrow search results and make the search better match your information needs. After performing an initial search, there are three search limiter boxes that will appear to the left of the search results:

  • Format: The West Coast University Library has four major format types: articles, books (including eBooks), journals/magazines (online), and a media collection (see your local Library staff member about media resources). Primarily, you will use the article format for most assignments. The book format includes both print books and eBooks. When looking at a print book record, be sure to check the Availability to see which branch or branches of the Library own the item. Checking only the eBook box will eliminate all other formats; not all of these eBooks will qualify as scholarly sources - check out the publisher (university presses are always academic) and information about the book to ensure that it is a scholarly source. You can also search whole issues of periodicals, most of which are eJournals or eMagazines.
  • Refine Your Search: There are further ways to reduce your search results. The Author list presents you the authors within the search results with the most publications. The Publication Year area allows you to limit for a specific year or year range. The Language list allows you to limit search results by the language in which they are recorded. The Audience list allows you to select whether you want information accessible for all ages (Juvenile) or adults only. The Subject list breaks down the results by subject headings.

When searching for scholarly articles, it is always recommended to select "Full-text" and "Peer-reviewed" from the Content Type area, and "English" under Language in the Refine Your Search box (unless you are fluent in another language, including field-specific language). Also, note that whenever you change the search in the search bar, you are performing a new search and will need to reselect any of these search limiters that you have checked.

Advanced Search

Advanced Search offers even more options with which you can limit your searches before the search. There are four boxes within Advanced Search:

  • Select a database to search: This is a required field that begins with searching our major library catalog, Worldcat.org. If this is all you want to search, you do not need to change this field. However, you can expand your search to include more databases: CINAHL Plus, Health Source Consumer Edition, Health Source Nursing/Academic Edition, InfoTrac Newsstand, MEDLINE, Opposing Viewpoints in Context, Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center, ProQuest Nursing & Allied Health Source, and SPORTDiscus. For more descriptions of these databases, see the WCU Research Resources tab. Remember, more databases means more results and greater variety among the results.
  • Enter search terms in at least one of the fields below: This is a required field because this is where you actually enter your search term/phrase. You can select what parts of a record to search for your search term, such as author or title, or just use keyword for a more general search. You can use multiple search terms and they will be searched like there is an "AND" Boolean operator between them.
  • Peer-reviewed articles: This is an optional box, but an important one. You can limit the search to only return peer-reviewed articles. While this can be a useful step, notice that selecting this option will not return any other format of resources.
  • Other search tool selections: Additional selections are optional. The Held by Library list allows you to select which library to search (note that e-resources are shared so choose the general "West Coast University" option for those). Year allows you to set up a date range for your results. Format allows you to select a type of item, like eBook or DVD, to search, excluding all others. Language allows you to select what language to use to limit results.

The major search limiter that is not available in Advanced Search is "Full-text" - you will have to select that option after you receive your search results.

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