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How to search? Search methods and techniques
The way you search is a combination of a search method, the accompanying search techniques and the structure of your search.
- Snowball method: search based on the features (author, references, citations, keywords etc.) of an earlier found publication. Usually simply by following the links in a search engine or literature database. Citation searching is a special kind of snowball searching in which you follow citation links. You will find more recent literature.
- Systematic method: entering search terms you thought of yourself in search engines that make literature in a particular discipline (or any discipline) searchable, regardless of availability
- Catalogue method: entering search terms you thought of yourself in search engines that make literature in a particular (print or electronic) collection searchable
- Boolean search: combining and excluding with AND, OR, NOT, NEAR
- Exact phrase: search by an exact combination of words, often by using double quotes e.g. "climate change"
- Truncation: searching by the root that a group of words has in common, often by using an asterisk e.g. migrat* for migration, migrated, migratory etc. (not supported by Google)
- Masking tell the search engine that one or more characters you are not sure about are not neccesary for your search
- Using keywords generated by the authors or by the makers of a search engine
- Using thesauruses: (subject related) overviews showing the relation between professional terms
- Field specific search: indicate that your terms must occur in a particular part of the publication (title, summary, name of the author). Use 'advanced search' option.
- Using filters and 'limits': limit your set of results by excluding publications having certain features (for instance filter on language or publication year)
Execution of your search:
- Start with broad or narrow terms and either zoom in or zoom out
- Switch to and fro between your search terms and your search results to improve them
- Not enough results? > Enter fewer and broader terms, use truncation, OR instead of AND, use other source
- Too many results? > Enter more and more specific terms, exact phrase, AND instead of OR, filter (by year for instance)
In the special LibGuide search strategy you will find more information about search methods and search techniques.
Search strategy: what, where, how?
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:
- What: in advance think through what information you really need: subject, type of information (analysis, news, statistics, opinion, overview etc.), level and recency. The exact terms you are going to use in your search are of crucial importance.
- Where: What you are looking for determines where you should go to find it: unfortunately there is not one search engine or database that has it all.
- How: There are various methods of searching. The systematic/bibliographic method (using search terms in scholarly databases) and the snow ball method (finding new information related to what you already have) are the most important. The exact application of these methodes depends on the options available in the database or search engine.
The special LibGuide search strategy (in Dutch) has more on building succesful search strategies.
Informatie over zoekmethodes en over publicaties (online) in handen krijgen
OK, now for the real thing. Using subpages A through E, you will search for articles, books, reports, newspaper articles and statistics. Please scan the tips on search methods, search techniques and ways to get the actual documents/articles in the boxes on the right.
Using the search history option
Many search engines save your searches during the browser session. You can use this information to:
- Keep track of your searches, so you won't perform searches twice
- Retrieve an earlier search, for instance when after trying alternatives you decide that the earlier search was the best after all
- Quickly compare the results of several searches
- Work systematically with the search history option. First search on single terms and then look at your search history. It shows numbers of hits. Use that information to select terms you want to combine in new searches.
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.
UBUlink: availability of publications
In your search for scholarly literature you may sometimes find the UBU-link. This link provides information about the availability of the publication via the University Library, in digital as well as in paper format.
UBUlink, quickly to the publication
In the case of digital publications the UBU-link provides direct access. For print publications the UBU-link gives information about availability at Utrecht University Library. Sometimes the UBU-link is in the form of a yellow button, but it can also be a text link.
The library does not have it. What to do now?
- Was the UBUlink wrong? Search our WorldCat (by title of the book or print journal) and/or the list of journals (seach by journal title) to be really sure it is not available.
- Is a book maybe online available free of charge? Check Google Books. Is a journal article maybe online available free of charge? Check Google Scholar (the links in the right hand column).
- Does any other Dutch library hold the publication? Material from other Dutch libraries can be requested through WorldCat by clicking on the title of the item. Under "Availability" then "Libraries Worldwide" you will find the "Interlibrary Request" button. By clicking that you will be directed to a form where you can make your request. This service is not free of charge. More information about borrowing from other libraries you can find at the library website. Borrowing from other Dutch libraries is free for Dutch students: have a library card made and pick up and return the books yourself. Or let somebody you know in that city make photocopies of your book or journal.
- Should this publication be in the collection of Utrecht University Library? Submit a purchase suggestion, or contact the subject specialist.
- Mail the author: ask the author to send you the article. On publishers' sites and in databases such as Scopus you will often find the email address of the author.
- Twitter to the rescue! This may work for articles from journals to which the UU does not subscribe and that are not Open Acess. Send out a tweet with the URL and add the hashtag #icanhazpdf. Chances are good you will get into contact with someone able to legally send you a (PDF ot other) version of the text.
- Does a foreign library hold the publication? Check WorldCat. Use Interlibrary Loan (ILL) to request material from abroad.
- Buy it yourself? Online access to an article can usually be bought via the publisher's site of the journal (use your creditcard); books can be bought in an (online) bookstore.