Search Statement Basics
One important thing I teach is how to form a search statement. Search statements are used because search engines and databases do not speak English. Instead, a researcher uses several keywords to tell a search engine or database what ideas are most important, and also puts Boolean operators between the keywords to show how the words relate to each other. The most commonly used Boolean operators include:
- AND – this finds results that include ALL the keywords
- OR – finds results that include one or the other of the keywords – used with parentheses around the set of keywords
- NOT – excludes results that include certain keywords – often uses a minus sign rather than the word “NOT”
An example search statement might be: halloween AND (costume OR disguise) -vampire. Using this search in Google, Bing, or Yahoo will show results for Halloween costumes or disguises, but not vampire ones.
Searching Using Source Types
Once you sort them out, Boolean operators are pretty simple. The more difficult trick is figuring out which keywords will find what you really need. Perhaps my favorite trick is to include different kinds of sources as search keywords. To illustrate:
- To find primary sources about a topic, include specific types of sources that are known to be primary: halloween AND (autobiography OR diary)
- To find statistics about a topic: halloween AND (statistics OR data)
- To find serious video sources, go to a video site and search: halloween AND (documentary OR report OR lecture)
The results from these searches show that using words like “diary” or “statistics” in a well-built search statement can trick a database into giving you the treats you really need for that research assignment you should be working on instead of reading this blog post. P.S. I’m glad you survived Frankenstorm Sandy!