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Searching: Beyond the Basics

This page covers more advanced search techniques to help you find literature for your research.

For introductory searching techniques see How Do I Find Information?

Searching for information is an iterative process: planning a search strategy, running it in several databases, evaluating and reflecting on the results, refining the search terms and strategy, and re-running the search.

You may need to make several attempts using different search strategies, depending on the information you require and sources searched e.g. scholarly literature, government reports and industry publications.

Scoping Your Topic

Up until now you may have found enough information by doing broad searches in Discover, Google, and Google Scholar. Now you will want to go beyond broad strategies to ensure you have covered your research question comprehensively.

Comprehensive searching requires you to scope your research area to identify all relevant terms and synonyms. You may already have collated some research articles which can provide ideas for keywords.

Using a table to identify concepts and synonyms can be helpful in order to conceptualise your search strategy. Here is an example:

Scoping Your Search

Advanced Search Techniques

Once you have identified search terms, there are some search techniques that can be useful.

Truncation and Other Search Symbols

Article databases generally look for the exact words you type in, though some automatically allow for variant spellings.

You can use a truncation symbol (usually *) to find one word stem and all its varying word endings e.g. manage* will find manager, managed, manages, management.  Note that neither Google nor Google Scholar supports the use of a truncation symbol as they search for variant endings automatically.

Other symbols may be available, such as wildcards to replace letters within a word, or proximity operators to specify that two search terms should be within a certain distance of each other. Check the help screen within the database you are using, as the symbols and functionality vary.

Phrase Searching

If your terms include a phrase, place it inside double quotation marks to make sure that the words are searched for as a phrase, rather than separately.  For example, use “change management” rather than change management.  However, be aware that using phrase searching can sometimes be too restrictive and you may need to broaden your search and rerun it without quotation marks, depending on your results.

Applying these techniques our table now looks like this:

Applying Advanced Search Techniques

Limiting Your Search Terms to Particular Fields

You can specify in which fields your search terms must appear. The default setting is usually title, abstract and subject headings. You can change this default setting to narrow or broaden your search results set.

For example, searching for your terms in only the title field will give you a very narrow, focused set of results; while searching for your terms in the full text of the articles will give you a wider, less relevant set of results.

Check the options for changing fields in the article database you are using; they are often in a drop down menu next to the search box.

Here is how our search example looks when entered into the article database Scopus:

Scopus Search Strategy

Where to Search

No single article database will have all the information, so it is important to run your search strategies in several databases.

If you need to know which databases will be most productive for your research topic, use the Library’s Subject Guides to find lists of article databases and other key information resources by broad subject area.  While Discover is a very good place to start searching (and has its own Advanced Search), the multi-disciplinary and subject-specific databases in the Subject Guides may provide extra sources and functionality, such as specialized subject headings, additional limits, and citation searching.

Key multi-disciplinary databases are:

Note that connecting to Google Scholar via the Massey University Library website gives access to any full text sources that the Library subscribes to.

You will also want to consider different types of literature, e.g. government reports, statistics, industry publication, legal resources, statutes.