Before you dive into specialist literature it always helps to get some basic information first and contextualize your topic. You can use reference works for that:
Although there are thousands of these type of reference works there is no guarantee that they will be available for each and every topic. Also the delineations between the different types mentioned above may be quite vague.
Finding these reference works is not that hard. Using the advanced search in WorldCat. Search the title field with handbook OR encyclop*. On a second line of the same search again select the title field and type in a search term describing your subject (e.g. energy, transport*, horse*, renaissance, copyright, drug abuse or gravitational waves) .Try various (broader and narrower) terms that describe your topic. An increasing share of the search results will be available as e-books.
You can also try other terms describing reference works: dictionary, compendium, gazetteer, manual, textbook or truncate some of the terms, e.g. encyclop*. If you need to find non-English reference works, you need to work with non-English terms.
The most important reference works are also mentioned in the list of search systems on the library website.
The most important advice we can give you on generating search terms is try to think of the terms likely to be used in the document. This so-called 'thinking in terms of the document you are looking for' helps you to avoid looking for information with the help of terms that you would use, but encourages you to use terms the author has probably used.
This means, rather paradoxically, that you try to imagine beforehand the content of the document you are hoping to find. Try to consider:
Thinking in terms of the document is easier once you have seen more relevant articles, thus know more about the subject and are more familiar with the jargon used.
This advice applies to classical documents such as books and articles, but also to web pages, reports, blogs and tweets.
You don't have to think of every search term all by yourself. Especially in the case of foreign languages, your active vocabulary is smaller than your receptive vocabulary: you do know or recognize the words, but you cannot think of them yourself. So make good use of anything that suggests good search terms:
Subject related sources:
Language thesauruses: lists of synonyms and related concepts in a particular language which you know receptively but not actively:
more about dictionaries in the LibGuide woordenboeken (in Dutch)
To many economic publications the subject codes of the Journal of Economic Literature (JEL) Classification System have been added. In the RePEc Ideas search engine you can browse by JEL-codes and find related publications with the help of JEL-codes. Despite the fact that no separate search field is available, you can also search by these codes, but then you will only find publications to which the codes have been added as keywords. In Econlit you can also search by JEL-codes. It is possible to indicate that the codes must occur as keywords and not as words in the text.
For scientific terms:
For geographic names:
many more Geo gazetteers and databases of place names via UNGEGN
Problems mainly arise in the case of:
Ideally the preferred spelling is used within a language region which is often recorded in spelling guides or authoratative dictionaries. However, they do not contain proper names of persons, organisations or places.
The many shapes of Qaddafi...
|variant||google books||google scholar||scopus||catalogue||worldcat||wikipedia EN||wikipedia NL||mainly in...|
|Gaddafi||c. 570||131||23||0||361||1685||26||English / German|
|Qaddafi||c. 530||162||46||1||1793||280||8||Engels / Arabisch|
|Qadhafi||c. 440||64||38||9||414||73||175||Engels / Nederlands|
NB: Results from 20120328. Due to the otherwise unreliable numbers the search term was "Ghadaffi" in Google Books. In Google Scholar the search was limited to articles having the name in the title.
The example of the former Libian colonel clearly shows how search results may differ due to spelling variants. Moreover, in this example it is hardly possible to use the * to truncate on the root of the word, apart from the fact that Google and Google Scholar do not support this search method.
For that matter, really reliable databases have their own conventions relating to preferred terms and preferred spelling of the keywords added to an article. So with the help of the preferred term, articles can be found in which that term does not necessarily occur.
There are plenty of buzz words going round to indicate all kinds of (search) terms. They do not always mean the same. Usually they are used in the following sense:
With some search methods you do not have to generate search terms; with the snowball method you just follow links starting from a publication you have at hand. That way you get to cited publications, citing publications, more of the same author or more in the same journal. Some databases contain clickable keywords in article descriptions taking you to related information. Others have direct links 'related' or 'similar'.
For books another option is browsing shelves in the library: not very targeted but it may give suprising results. Note that books are increasingly acquired in e-book format, so this option will become less valuable, especially in science, life sicences and social sciences.
You search strategy defines what you search, where you search and how you perform your search. In the course of your search process you take many decisions that affect the quality of search results and the time needed to get those results.
The main decisions in your search strategy relate to:
The special LibGuide search strategy (in Dutch) has more on building succesful search strategies.
It is a good thing to think of as many possible alternatives as possible. Which ones you use in the end depends on:
It is wise to check beforehand how many and what kind of results a certain search term yields before you combine it with other terms. But please note that the numbers of results in Google are totally unreliable, even relatively speaking.
Many search engines save your searches during the browser session. You can use this information to:
Some search systems offer the option to combine search terms directly from the browser history. For instance by ticking previous searches and combine them with AND or OR.
If you want to keep your search history also after closing your browser session you should create an account in the search system. Google offers this option as well as most catalogues and databases provided by library.