Basic Search Tips


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Keyword Searching

Subject Searching

Keyword vs Subject Searching


Keyword Searching

A few standard techniques apply to effective searching in the Tufts Catalogs and other databases, such as the ability to search by title and by author for a specific book or article. It’s all about learning to use the syntax that the database understands.

Most databases allow you to search by keyword and (in most databases) subject. Each method has its advantages and limitations. We'll examine keyword searching first, followed by subject searching.

Brainstorming Keywords and Synonyms

Take a couple minutes to think about your topic and keywords to use in your searches.

Suppose you're starting with the thesis: “Global warming is having adverse impacts on agriculture in America.” What keywords might be used to search for relevant sources?

  1. Look at your topic statement or question
    global warming impacts agriculture America.
  2. Break it down into its major concept terms
global warming   |   impacts   |   agriculture   |   America
  1. Think of synonyms and variations of your keywords to use when searching. You should go through this quick exercise because you may find out that while you use the word “global warming,” the database you’re searching uses “climate change.” Using synonyms guarantees that you’re casting a wider net.
global warming example map

Modifying Your Searches with AND/OR/NOT and with Truncation

When you identify the keywords and synonyms to use for searching, the next step is to figure out how to express yourself in a way the database will best understand your request. Most databases, including the Tufts Catalog, do not work like a web search engine and you need to use words like AND, OR, and NOT (sometimes called Boolean or search operators), and other techniques in order to quickly find the most relevant sources for your research.

Use AND when you want to combine two or more terms that differ in their meaning. This will improve your list of search results. A search for global warming and agriculture will find results about both topics. fdasfs
Use OR to combine terms that are similar in meaning. This will broaden your search, finding results about either of your topics.In order to broaden your search on global warming, you could search for global warming or greenhouse effect. asdf

Use NOT (or AND NOT in the library catalog) to exclude results about an unwanted topic. The search "hurricanes not north carolina" will find articles about hurricanes, not hurricanes in North Carolina or the North Carolina Hurricanes hockey team.

asdf

Another way of expanding your search (similarly to using OR as shown above) is to use truncation or wildcard symbols.

Truncation
To be sure you’re searching all the varieties of a word environment simply use the database’s truncation symbol, usually an asterisk, though symbols vary from one database to another.
environment*
finds word variations like environmental, environmentalist, environments etc
Wildcards
Wildcards are symbols that allow you to search for variations within a word.
wom?n
finds women, woman, womyn, etc.

Truncation symbols and wildcards vary among databases, so be sure to look at the help screens for the database you are searching, or look at the database searching tips page.

Using phrases

When you are searching for something specific and your words have to be in precise order you can often use quotation marks to limit your search to a phrase. This technique of refining or limiting a search works in many article databases, but is not necessary in the Tufts Catalog. Typing "greenhouse gas emissions" assures that the database you are searching will not interpret your search as greenhouse or gas or emissions.

Examples

Putting it all together:

Now that you have your keywords, ANDs, ORs, and truncation symbols in order, you can put your search together and input it in any number of databases.

global warming example map

Using the same example, the search strategy becomes (global warming or climate change or greenhouse gas*) and (effect* or impact*) and     (agricultur* or dairy farm*) and (America or United States)

You will notice that when combining synonyms using or, those words are grouped together using parentheses. Experimentation to see what works never hurts! For example, you might need to change the term like “vehicle” to “motor vehicle*" if a lot of sources concerning very irrelevant types of vehicles turn up!

Advanced Keyword searching in the Tufts Catalog

Use the advanced search option to restrict searches to particular “fields” of the database record, for example the author, title, subject, citation, abstract, or full-text field. At the same time, you can limit your search by date or publication, publisher, language, Tufts library and material type (books, DVDs, CDs, maps, etc.)

Subject Searching

The primary advantage of keyword searching -developing your own words and phrases- can also be its drawback. Subject searching alleviates this issue by using a thesaurus. For example, if you search by subject in the Tufts Catalog, you’ll see that all the books about the death penalty are indexed with the subject “capital punishment.” You can be confident that if you search by subject for capital punishment, you will find all the books in the library that cover this topic. Many databases, including the Tufts Catalog, offer a thesaurus. For those that don’t, you should continue to search by keyword.

 

Subject Searching in the Tufts Catalog

While keyword searching allows you to find books or other library items that might be related to your topic, subject searching often provides a greater degree of precision than keyword searching.

One way to improve your results with subject searching is to first do a keyword search. When looking at your search results, notice the subject headings. You can click on any of these subject headings to find related items. So an item that you found doing a keyword search for carbon offsets (4 titles found) will display the subject heading emissions trading (19 titles found), global warming—economic aspects (14 titles found) and air—pollution—economic aspects (9 titles found). Click on any of the subject headings in the Tufts Catalog record to see more focused results.

There are many other techniques you can use in the Tufts Catalog to mold your search query to your needs. See the catalog help pages for more information.

Subject Searching in Databases

Article databases also use subjects to bring articles on the same subject together, allowing you to find articles on a topic using the language and terminology that are unique to your field of study.

Which Way to Search: by Keyword or Subject?

Actually, you can use either or both of these methods to search for your topic. But in a keyword search, the computer will look for the word wherever it appears, and in a subject search it will look for the word as an assigned “subject” term, or even as the first word in a set string of terms. What this means can best be shown by example:

Either method of searching MAY work satisfactorily on your initial try. For example, a subject search in the Tufts Catalog for Solar System would turn up a good listing of books right away, and a simple keyword search for Solar System would work equally well. However, for a topic like China’s one child policy, you would probably need to use additional techniques to find sources.

In short, either method of searching MAY or MAY NOT work well initially – and probably will not prove, by itself, the best and most thorough way of searching. Therefore it can be handy to know of other search techniques.

Keyword Searching is Broad

Subject Searching is Specific

Your search word will be looked for in the title, author name, publisher information, subject, etc. If you do a keyword search for "Boston", you would find books published by publishers located in Boston, books written by George L. Boston, CDs by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, etc.

  • Advantage: you’ll usually find something -though it may not be the most relevant title- on your topic.
  • Disadvantage: your words may not describe your topic using the acknowledged terms.

Your search word will be looked for in the subject of the book or article. If you were wishing to find books about Boston during the revolutionary war, and knew that one of the Library of Congress subject headings was "Boston (Mass.) -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783", you would be able to find materials in Tisch Library focused on your topic.

  • Advantage: you can search for the most relevant materials.
  • Disadvantage: you may need to know some specialized vocabulary or terminology.

It is not always easy to determine the best search strategy or combination of strategies for searching one or more databases. Whenever you run into difficulty, remember that help is available at the library reference desk or through an appointment with a librarian .



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