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Universiteitsbibliotheek – LibGuides

Introduction to Literary Studies: Search strategy

How to search? Search methods and techniques

he way you search is a combination of a search method, the accompanying search techniques and the structure of your search.

Search methods:

  • 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

Search techniques:

  • 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)

The LibGuide search strategy offers more details on how to build up succesful strategies.