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Teaching & Learning

Undergraduate & Graduate Level Research and Information

Search Methodology

Search Methodology or Search Methods- as it is more commonly called, is the way of efficiently and effectively finding information. Search Methods utilize search strings (key word phrases) and special algorithms to communicate with different databases what you are looking for. Simply put, it is the way that information seekers talk to computers to find relevant information. Each database "talk" in their own language and have their own unique algorithms to help the user retrieve information. 

Using Boolean Logic

Boolean Logic or Boolean Search Operators as they are sometimes called, are basic words used as conjunctions to combine terms or exclude keywords within a search, resulting in a more defined search result. This process helps save time and effort by "dropping" irrelevant hits. 

Boolean Operators:

AND (Narrows search results to only include relevant results with your required keywords)

OR (Expands search results to contain one or more of your required keywords)

NOT (Limits search results by excluding keywords and even phrases from your results)

Quotation Marks "" (Used around keywords and even phrases to returned in exact order)

Parenthesis ( )  (Used to give priority to keywords within the parenthesis over other terms outside of the parenthesis) 

Proximity, Truncation, and Wild Card Searches

The information search process can range from simple to complex. At times, you may need to use advanced search techniques to find appropriate information for your research topics. These advanced techniques are less commonly used however very effective yielding results. Below are 3 advanced search techniques that are useful for research especially for graduate level students. 

Proximity- A way to search for two or more words that occur within a certain number of words from each other. The proximity operators are composed of a letter (N or W) and a number (to specify the number of words)

Truncation- Also called "stemming" broadens your search by including various word endings and spellings. Truncation occurs when you type the root of a word followed by the truncation symbol i.e. psych*= psychology, psychological, psyche. (Common truncation symbols: *, #, ?, !).

Wildcard- Similarly to truncation, wildcard substitutes a symbol for a missing letter within a word i.e. wom?n= woman, women.

Backward & Forward Citation Searches

Backward and Forward Citation (also known as Footnote Chasing) Searching has many names. You may have heard it referred to as citation mining, chain searching and less commonly called pearl growing. To start the process you must:

Backward Citation Search

  1. Locate an article of Interest 
  2. Examine articles in the Reference or Works Cited
  3. Search for articles using TSU's Library Landing Page:

Forward Citation Search/Footnote Chasing

  1. Locate an Article of Interest
  2. Use Web of Science to find articles that cite the initial article
  • Will list brief record and times cited
  • Will display list of articles that cite the initial article

Note: For articles that we currently do not subscribe to please use: Interlibrary Loan

Choosing Search Terms

Databases retrieve results based on what you enter within the search box. The more precise your keywords are to the information you are trying to find, the more precise your search results will be. Therefore it is important to choose relevant keywords or terms based on your topic so that the databases will retrieve a have a high level of relevant information for you from your initial search.

Searching with Key Words

Keywords are search terms that are entered into the search field of databases. Keywords represent the main topic or idea of your research-they are the everyday words used to describe and/or define your research.

For example you're research topic is: Racial Biases in the United States Educational System

Your Keywords will be: Race, Bias, Discrimination , United States, Education

These Keywords will give you a high level of results to review however as you narrow down your research topic you may use narrower search terms such as:

Implicit Bias, Institutionalized Racism, In-Group Bias, Marginalized, Systematic Oppression, Dominant Culture

in addition to your initial keywords.

How to Search for exact Phrases

Using a exact phrase searching quickly narrows search results. To conduct an exact phrase search, you must use the boolean operator: Parenthesis (). When surrounding phrases with parenthesis you are telling databases to look for two or more words in the exact order your entered them.

For example: (Racial Bias AND United States Education)


(Racial Bias AND United States Education NOT Higher Education)


Subject Heading Searches

Databases often have a predetermined list of possible terms called Subject Headings. When searching databases you can use subject headings to find related terms, subjects and hyperlinks to content related articles. At TSU Libraries, we use Library of Congress Subject Headings and so do many of our databases. However a few of our databases use unique subject headings. For example PubMed uses MeSh (Medical Subject Headings) and CINAHL has  their own controlled vocabulary with MeSH integrated into the authority file. Subject headings are found in the database's thesaurus (contains most effective search terms). 

Using APA PsychTests & Mental Measurements Yearbook and Tests in Print

An extensive collection of items associated with psychological measures, scales, surveys, and other instruments essential to the research needs of professionals, students, and educators across the behavioral and social sciences.Focused on a collection of instrumentation tools developed for research but not made commercially available these tools helps researchers easily find scales and measures for their own use (APA,2020).

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