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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Basic Search Tools for Information Sciences Research: Home

Introduces major reference tools and information search strategies for the information sciences.

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Finding Articles

Online indexes are databases of bibliographic records. Sometimes these databases also include full text. Some indexes cover books and other formats, but the primary reason to use an online index is to identify articles in journals and magazines.

Suggested strategies for searching

Choose the right tool

To conduct more advanced searches within the IS literature, use LISS and/or INSPEC (a part of Engineering Village)

Choose what part of the bibliographic record to search within

  • In most databases, a simple keyword search includes the article title, the author, and assigned subject terms. It might also include the text of an abstract, content notes, and more.
  • In most databases, you can limit your search to a particular field of the record using a pull-down menu.

Use the "controlled vocabulary" of each database.

  • Most databases have their own "approved" subject terms. The terms for the same concept often vary among databases, even within a single discipline.
  • Other labels for subject terms are descriptors and subject headings.
  • Many databases provide a searchable thesaurus or a browse function that includes subject headings, enabling you to zero in on the terms used for your topic.
  • Another way to discover the terms used in a particular database is to conduct a keyword search, then examine the most relevant records you retrieve to see what subject terms are assigned to them.

Use keyword searching intelligently 

  • Subject indexing is not perfect. How subject headings or descriptors are applied changes over time and with the individual indexer. Keyword searching can complement searches based on controlled vocabularies.
  • Keyword searching is useful for proper names, brands, acronyms, etc.
  • Keyword searching is useful for innovative concepts and newly coined words.
  • Avoid common words like "information" or "library."
  • Enclose phrases in quotation marks, e.g. "university library."
  • A keyword search can lead you to relevant records, from which you can discover the subject terms used in that database.

Use Boolean operators and other options to fine-tune your search statement .

  • Use the AND operator to narrow your search. For example, to find articles about sheet music, try "music AND scores."
  • Use the OR operator to broaden your search or to search for synonyms or related terms. For example, "digital OR virtual OR online."
  • Use the NOT operator to exclude topics from your search. For example, "classification NOT Dewey."
  • Use the truncation symbol to search for word roots. For example, librar* to find articles about libraries, librarians, librarianship, etc.
    • Different databases use different truncation symbols.
    • The asterisk (*) and the question mark(?) are common ones.
  • Use proximity operators (available in some but not all search interfaces) to specify that words appear near each other but not necessarily as a phrase. For example, "community NEAR informatics"
  • Use pull-down menus (available in some but not all search interfaces) to define the parameters of your search, such as specifying "all these words" or "any of these words."

Use the Help feature

In most online resources, look for a button or link labeled "help" near the upper right corner of the screen.

Subject Guide

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