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FYS: The American Experience: Documents, Philosophy, and Practice (McGowan): Finding Sources

Created for Dr. McGowan's Fall 2014 FYS class.

AND/OR/NOT

Two is better than one

Think about it: search engines crawl thousands, maybe even millions and billions, of pages or records trying to match your search term with results. You're going to be absolutely overwhelmed with results if you only enter a single search term. You're also going to find a lot of completely irrelevant stuff.

So how can you improve your chances?  

Come up with multiple search terms and combine them using the options described here.

Venn diagram highlighting the area of overlap between the two circles.

Combining search terms with AND will:

  • Reduce the number of results
  • Make the search focus more specifically on your topic

Search for "college student"  = 1.2 billion results 

Search for politics = 296 million resultsAdvanced search examples show how to select AND to connect multiple search terms

Search for "college student" AND politics = 43 million results more focused on your topic

Search for "college student" AND politics AND "2008 election" = 543,000 more relevant results

Combining search terms with OR will:

  • Expand your search and increase number of results
  • Give your search flexibility to find alternate terms

Search for film  = 601,786 resultsEBSCO search for movie or film

Search for movie = 199,781 results 

Search for film OR movie  = 642,906 results that mention either film or movie, or both


Search for "middle school" = 21,401 results that mention "middle school"EBSCO search for "middle school" or "junior high"

Search for "junior high" = 7,261 results

Search for "middle school" OR "junior high" = 28,177 results that mention either "middle school" or "junior high", or both

Combining search terms with NOT will:

  • Decrease your search results
  • Increase the relevancy of your results by telling the search to exclude certain terms

Search for "Hunger Games"  = 745 results Demonstrates the advanced search "Not" feature of EBSCO

Search for "Hunger Games" NOT movie = 487 results 

 


Search for cloning = 42,736 resultsBasic EBSCO search bar: cloning NOT human

Search for cloning NOT human = 30,325 results

Search engines attempt to match your terms to the items it searches (titles, authors, abstracts, description fields, full text, etc).

However, search engines do NOT understand phrases, sentences, or questions. So when it does this matching, it searches for each term indivdiually. Some searches attempt to find terms in proximity to each other, but this varies depending on where you search.

Quotation marks to the rescue

If your search terms are more than single worlds, employ quotation marks to show the search engine that you want the terms to be found together. The search will look for exactly what you place in the quotation marks, so be sure there are no mistakes.


Search for Adam Smith = 38,700,000 results

Search for "Adam Smith" = 2,730,000 results


Search for theory of relativity = 3,430,000 results

Search for "theory of relativity" = 856,000 results

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Scholarship as Conversation

When You Have Already Identified a Good Source

Backwards Reference Searching

What it yields:  

It looks into the sources that your author referenced. This means the sources have already been vetted by your author for credibility, and you know that they are related to the topic at hand. However, it also means that the sources must have been published before your original source, so you will be retrieving older materials.

A vintage-style pocket watch

How to do it: 

  1. Look through the reference page of your source. 
  2. Identify sources that seem relevant or interesting. 
  3. Track down the full-text of these sources.

Tools to use:

Forward Reference Searching

What it yields:  

Lego homeage to the Back to the Future movie. DeLorean flying in the sky.

It looks into the newer sources that have cited your original source. It is a good indicator that the sources will be on related topics and of good quality.

How to do it: 

There are several tools to help you identify which newer sources list your original source on their reference page.

Do You Remember ... The Future? by JD Hancock. Used under CC BY 2.0

Tools to use:

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