The techniques explained in this page will help you become the fast, effective searcher you really need to be as a distance learning student relying on online information sources. Not all the techniques covered here will be supported by all databases - you are advised to look at the help pages as you learn to use a new database since that will save you a lot of time and frustration.
Most searches will return too many or too few records. It takes a long time to look at hundreds of records. By putting a little effort into constructing search strings (what you type into the search box) you can save a lot of time. The database can do a lot of work for you if you take the trouble to add a little sophistication to your search strings.
To do this with databases you need to know about the Boolean system. By the use of a few simple linking words, called operators, you can make your searches much more precise.
If your search returns too many records, you can narrow your search by adding more search terms. To make sure that all the records your search finds contain all the search terms, link them with the and operator. For example, let's say you were interested in only red cars. To avoid having to sift through records on blue cars, green cars and so on, you would use the following search string:
If you do not wish to see records containing a certain term, you can exclude these by using the not operator. Be careful when using this, you may miss records that contain useful information because you have excluded too many records. With many databases you will need to use and not rather than not, check the help pages of the database if you are not sure. If you were interested in cars of any colour as long as they are not blue, you would use the following search string:
If your search returns few or no records, you might have more success if you can think of alternative search terms. This can include:
To search for records that return one or more of your search terms, link them together with the or operator. For example, cars are also known as automobiles and so to catch as many relevant records in your search as possible, you would use:
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