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Library Search Primer-JCain/VGregg

This is a primer to library searching created for Professor Veronica Gregg's courses.


Database: A large, regularly updated file of digitized information ... related to a specific subject or field, consisting of records of uniform format organized for ease and speed of search and retrieval.  For recommended databases see the "Finding Articles" tab at the top of the page.

Keyword(s): A significant word or phrase in the record of an item  in a catalog or database.   These keywords can reflect the main concepts in your research topic.  Think of keywords as your search terms.

Subject Term(s): Subject terms, sometimes called descriptors, are words that reflect the main focus of an article in a database.  You can use subject terms to create searches that are more precise than the  ones created by  using keywords. This will help you to find articles [and books] that address a particular subject. You can often use the subject thesaurus in some databases to search by subject terms.  The subject terms, unlike keywords, are often pre-defined.  

Descriptor(s): Words or phrases assigned to books and articles to index these items by topic.

Boolean Operator(s): A system of "operators," or linking words, which allows you to combine keywords or phrases when searching a database or catalog. AND, OR, and NOT are the basic Boolean Operators: AND combines; OR searches for and returns all of the search terms; and NOT excludes the search term that comes after the operator NOT.

Truncation: The process of dropping a character (or letter)  from the beginning, middle, or most commonly, the end of a search term and replacing it with another character (typically an asterisk *).  This will allow you to search for variations of the word: For example,   "child*"  would return "child," "children,"  childhood, etc.

Advanced Search: The "advanced search" feature allows users to have greater control over the search process  in several ways: by suggesting Boolean Operators;  by allowing  users to easily combine keywords in order  to create more detailed  and relevant searches;  and by giving users the ability to apply limits.  Students are required to use this feature for all their research. 

AbstractA brief, objective representation of the essential content of a book, article, speech, report, dissertation, patent, standard, or other work, presenting the main points in the same order as the original but having no independent literary value.

Page Scan (JSTOR specific): The page scan feature provides a count of the number of times and on which pages the user's search terms appear in a given article.

Exact Phrase Search: When searching for an exact phrase, place the phrase in quotation marks [ "... "] Example:  "Jamaica Kincaid."

Synonym: Make sure to use a collegiate dictionary, whether online or in print.

Search Statement (Search String): A search string may include the keywords of the research topic, certain symbols, special characters, Boolean Operators, and truncation. The purpose of the search string is to provide the search engine with the most precise instructions on how to search. Example: "Jamaica Kincaid" AND colonialism NOT sociology.

Limits and  How They Work:  Limits are conditions that are included in the search process in order to restrict results.  These conditions may include date range, publication type (e.g. scholarly journals), language, etc.

Peer-Reviewed Articles: Why are students required to use peer-review journals? Why not just "Google" or use Wikipedia? The peer-review process is designed to ensure that before scholarly work is published, it is carefully scrutinized and critiqued by (often anonymous) reviewers who are considered authorities in a given academic field. The aim is to create an accredited body of knowledge; which, in turn, can be reproduced, challenged, or reworked. The process also helps to ensure that the basic principles and rules of the academic field are observed.  Reading and analyzing peer-reviewed articles can provide students with an understanding of the framework and the substance of an area of study. Generally, peer-reviewed articles  are required to indicate the author's affiliation, usually to a university or college,  and to include notes and/or citation.