How do we go about searching a library database? Our first step is to create our research question. How do we come up with a research question that would be good for our assignment and for searching in library databases?
Now that we have our research question, we can start figuring out which terms will be most useful for our search. There are a few big differences between searches we are used to performing in Google or Bing, and searches in one of our library databases.
This biggest difference starts with what we put in the search box. When we use a search engine, we enter our complete thought into the search box: "How does the narrator in "The Black Cat" foreshadow the modern psychopath?" You will get lots of results with this search, but few of the returns you find on the Internet could be used in academic research, and you will spend a lot of time determining what you can use and what you cannot.
However, when we get ready to search Library databases, we cannot put our complete thought into the search box. If we tried to use the same search in a library database that we did in Google, we would not get any results. We will have to find the most important parts of our research question to narrow down our search.
When trying to find the most important parts of a research question, it's helpful to think about social media. If you created a video, meme, or post about your topic that you wanted to post on your favorite social media platform, your research question would be your title. You would also throw in some hashtags to make sure as many people as possible found your post. You are going to be doing the same thing to find the terms to use for a library database search. For our Poe example we could use:
Edgar Allan Poe
The Black Cat
If you do not get a lot of results with a library search, we have been taught to keep putting more information into our search. With a library database, if at first you do not get a lot of results instead of adding more words to your search, try new words. If you try to keep adding more words to your search you will quickly be left with no results.
Instead, try changing out some of the terms you used for ones that are similar. Just like we would not just use one hashtag when posting on social media, we want to make sure that we have multiple words for each of our main concepts. By using multiple terms, we make sure that we find all the information in the database that might help us with our research question. When performing literary criticism, at least one of your terms will be the title of the work or the author’s name. A good way to start your search is to combine those two terms and see what is out there!
Once you have a list of all of these words that you can use, how do you put them together for a library search? By using Boolean Operators we can use the keyword terms that we came up to construct a library search.
Use AND when you want narrow your results. When looking for literary criticism the first place to start is by searching the title of the work AND the author.
Use OR when you want to find all the information for your main search term and all of its synonyms.
Use NOT when you want to rule something out. This is especially helpful when a word has more than one common meaning.
Use quotation marks when you want the database to search those exact words in that exact order. This is particularly helpful for titles.
A search using all these operators may look like this: