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Index Searching FAQ  

Frequently Asked Questions about searching for articles.
Last Updated: Aug 22, 2013 URL: http://libguides.lib.msu.edu/indexes Print Guide RSS UpdatesEmail Alerts
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Table of Contents

Index Searching FAQ

 

1) There are so many indexes. How can I decide where to search?
2) I know what I want to research. How do I put my ideas into a search?
3) I'm getting too many results. Can I limit my search?
4) I've done several searches, the library has nothing on my topic.
5) I'm getting back results, but they're not really on my topic.
6) I can't make it over to the library. Should I just search the Web?

 

 

1) There are so many indexes. How can I decide where to search?

Look at the MSU Libraries E-Resources listings. There are some good indexes listed on the right hand side of the page. Academic OneFile, ProQuest and OmniFile Full Text Select are the three most popular general indexes.

About half way down the middle of the page find a pull down menu to select the appropriate subject discipline. This will list all the indexes for that discipline. Consider using the the Getting Started page at the top for links to the most used indexes in each discipline.

 

2) I know what I want to research. How do I put my ideas into a search?

Library indexes tend to be more structured than web searching, all the words entered in the search will be required in the results. Follow these steps:
  • State the question in a sentence or two. For example, suppose your research question is: What are the personality traits of college students who drink alcohol?
  • Identify the important (or key) words. In this example the key words are: personality, college students, alcohol.
  • Identify any necessary relationships between words. For this search college and students need to go together.
  • Decide on any synonyms to use. Personality can stand alone. College might also be university, and alcohol might also be booze or beer. Maybe booze would be good in a web search, but it's probably not used very often in the academic psychology literature.
  • Put it all together. Here's where you have to know the search software. In ProQuest the search would look like this:

A tutorial on Boolean Searching is online from University of Missouri

 

3) I'm getting too many results. Can I limit my search?

  • Make your search narrower. Your topic may be too broad. A search for violence will return lots of hits in many databases. Limit your topic by choosing an aspect to focus on. Add and juveniles or and domestic or some similar limiting word.
          Note: not all search software adds modifiers in the same way. Read the Help Screens.

  • Use date or language limits. If your results are mostly on target for the type of information you hoped to find, try picking some non-subject related criteria, like date of publication or language to limit your search.

 

4) I've done several searches, the library has nothing on my topic.

  • Check your search terms. Perhaps you are not stating your search in words indexers use. For example, a patron who wanted air pollution data for automobiles found plenty of information after we looked up what pollutants are in auto exhaust and searched by those terms.

  • Ask a librarian for help. Don't give up until you've asked a librarian for help. Each vendor has different search software, so searching techniques that worked on one index sometimes won't work on a different system.

 

5) I'm getting back results, but they're not really on my topic.

This is often a challenge, try:

  • Be specific. Many times people try to search by a broad subject that includes their topic. If you want information about the Army, don't look under military, use the word Army.
  • Use synonyms joined by "OR" for major concepts. There is no standard terminology for some topics. Try stating what you want in several ways. Use "OR" to group synonyms. Don't forget to group synonyms on a single search line or use (parentheses) around "OR" statements. For example: (youth or adolescents or teenagers).
         Note: Not all search software adds synonyms in the same way. Read the Help Screens
  • Use a series of phrase searches. There are some topics we just can't make the computer understand. If you want information about teacher-to-teacher collaboration, and put in a search for teacher collaboration you will also get a lot of information about teacher-student or teacher-parent collaboration. In this case it might be best to try to state the phrase as it will appear. Use several options (phrases often have to be in quotes): "teacher to teacher collaboration" or "collaboration among teachers" or "teachers collaborating with teachers". When you get some good results, notice how the issue is stated in those records and use additional phrases as appropriate.
         Note: Software differs, some databases cannot search phrases at all. Read the Help Screens

  • Ask for help. Sometimes another person can suggest different language or a new way of approaching a topic.

 

6) I can't make it over to the library. Should I just search the Web?

You don't have to come to the Library to use our resources, the  Proxy server makes it possible to access our subscriptions from home.
Find a complete listing on the E-Resources page. For journal articles here are the most popular indexes to try:

  • The OmniFile Full Text Select database contains full text articles from most academic disciplines.
  • Academic OneFile has more article listings many reproduced in full.
  • ProQuest is another good product with lots of helps for the novice searcher.
  • LexisNexis Academic also offers full text for most of its content, which focuses on news and legal information.
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