Along the way I’ve written a paper for one or another of my classes or for a professional assignment. I thought I would share a few practical search tips for academic searches that might help you. They have worked for me along the way; may they work for you as well.
#1. Learn how to specify your topic.
I learned from Wikipedia to put a name to this step—disambiguate. If you are looking for information on John Adams, for instance, Wikipedia has a page where you can figure out which John Adams you mean. There are 17 politicians by that name, 13 of them American. There are 2 composers and 7 military men, and there are numerous other categories (such as sports figures) as well. Learn how to be as specific as possible when you are using search tools.
#2. Use the search engine features to your advantage.
If you are looking for journal articles and using one of the databases available through the UAMS library:
- You can limit your search to certain years (if you need the current state of research on a particular condition or a prescription drug, you can easily eliminate materials published more than 5 years ago, say).
- You can limit the sources of the information (to full articles, to a specific journal title, to reviews if you need to find out how a particular book was evaluated, and so on).
- You can limit your search by languages.
- Other limiting options are available; use them to your advantage to target your search.
#3. Learn the function of and use the Boolean operators.
Boolean operators are words like “and”, “or” and so forth. Most search engines incorporate these features into the basic functions where you search by subject, keyword, author and so forth. Effective use of these commands can help to focus your search and shorten your time evaluating the results of your search request.
#4. Follow the references.
As you begin to read articles, books, and other materials note whom they reference, especially if the reference is identified as particularly important or a leader in the field. In this regard check in with the reference librarian and with your professors. They have expertise in identifying particularly important work and perhaps also in helping you to steer clear of inaccurate, misleading, or confusing sources.