Part 1: Developing Search Topics
In this section you will learn to write a viable search topic.
Most topics can be stated in a sentence or two. Before doing a search, it is important to write down your topic as completely yet succinctly as possible.
EXAMPLE: I want information on using computers to teach math to elementary school students.
It would be inadequate to say:
I want information on the use of computers in elementary education.
I want information on teaching math to elementary school students.
Neither statement conveys the true meaning of your research topic because they are incomplete statements of the question.
Read the following statement and choose the best restatement for the research idea.
Schools are now facing the problem of dealing with the controversy of admitting students with AIDS. I want to find some information that will help our school be prepared in case such a situation arises.
The best search statement is:
a. I want information on AIDS.
b. I want information on controversial cases of AIDS.
c. I want information on admitting students with AIDS to school.
The correct answer is C because it contains all the concepts in the research question and will focus the search to the specific topic. A and B are too general and would turn up items that are not relevant to the specific research question.
On a separate sheet of paper, practice writing your own research question as completely yet succinctly as possible.
Part 2: Identifying Key Concepts
This part will give you practice dividing topics into their main concepts.
Each search topic can be divided into several main concepts. These can usually be expressed by single words or short phrases. Each search contains two or three main concepts. Four are unusual. If you find you can't narrow them to two or three, double check to be sure they are all necessary.
EXAMPLE: You want information on developing a graduate-level curriculum in recreation management.
The main concepts are in bold, including two phrases: graduate-level and recreation management.
Look at the following two statements and pick out the main concepts in each case.
a. effects of divorce on preschool children
b. treatment of schizophrenia in adolescents
The main concepts in 3a are divorce and preschool and children. The word effects should not be used in the search. It is an extremely vague word which might not appear as a word in a title, an abstract, or as a subject indexing term for a particular reference. Furthermore, effects is really assumed in the combination of the other concepts.
In 3b the main concepts are schizophrenia and adolescents. You might choose to search this question in PsycINFO which would eliminate the need to search for the term treatment since it is implied by the scope of the database.
Now practice picking out the main concepts of your own search topic. Ask a library staff member for help if you have questions.
Part 3: Translating Concepts to Terms
Sometimes the key concepts in a search statement do not translate to the exact terms entered on the computer. The best way to know this is to use a thesaurus. For example, the phrase athletic programs translates to athletics in the ERIC database. It is often necessary to choose related terms or synonyms for the best results.
EXAMPLE: If you are interested in references on teenage alcoholism, you should find all possible terms for each concept.
|FIRST CONCEPT:||SECOND CONCEPT:|
|high school students|
Using the search topic you selected previously, choose synonyms or related terms for each of your concepts. Use a separate sheet of paper to complete this exercise, arranging your terms as shown below.
|FIRST CONCEPT:||AND||SECOND CONCEPT:||AND||THIRD CONCEPT:|
Part 4: Boolean Connectors
This section will introduce you to the functions of the Boolean connectors OR, AND, NOT, and will teach you to construct simple search statements using these connectors.
The connector OR broadens a search, retrieving all records containing at least one of the search terms entered.
The connector AND narrows a search, retrieving only those records containing at least one term from each concept.
The connector NOT narrows a search, subtracting all citations that contain a particular word or phrase.
|higher education||NOT||junior colleges|
Care must be taken when using NOT. The statement learning disorders NOT dyslexia would exclude a reference that discussed learning disorders that also included dyslexia.
The researcher would like to find literature on athletic programs for handicapped teenagers.
|FIRST CONCEPT||SECOND CONCEPT||THIRD CONCEPT|
|mental retardation||high school students|
Statements entered in the computer using the above TERMS would look like this:
Statement 1: athletics OR swimming OR sports
Statement 2: disabilities OR amputees OR blindness OR mental retardation
Statement 3: teenagers OR adolescents OR teens OR high school students
Statement 4: #1 AND #2 AND #3 (Combine the results of 1 AND 2 AND 3.)
Part 5: Truncation
In the preceding example, different variations of the words teenager and adolescent were used. It is tedious to type words which begin with the same stems over and over. Most search systems will allow use of a truncation symbol to find variant forms of the same word stem. The computer is programmed to only look for the exact word that has been typed UNLESS a truncation symbol appears.
EXAMPLE: Typing teenage will pick up only teenage, not teenager or teenagers.
The most common mistake in using truncation is shortening the stem too much. For example, if you decide to type cat* to get cat or cats, you will also get catalog, cathode , and of course, catastrophe, as well as anything else that begins with cat.
EXERCISE 6: Supply a truncation symbol at each appropriate point in the following terms, using the SilverPlatter symbol.
|FIRST CONCEPT||SECOND CONCEPT|
EXERCISE 7: Supply a truncation symbol from DISSERTATION ABSTRACTS at the appropriate point in the following concept terms.
|FIRST CONCEPT||SECOND CONCEPT||THIRD CONCEPT|
Part 6: Thesauri
A descriptor is added to a record by an indexer to describe the subject matter of the article.
EXAMPLE: The following citation is from PsycINFO. Notice the descriptors which begin on the line labeled DE.
AN 10903 72-4. 8504.
AU WEBER-KARA-J. GILLINGHAM-WILLIAM-H
TI GROUP COUNSELING FOR ANOREXIC AND BULIMIC STUDENTS.
SO JOURNAL OF COLLEGE STUDENT PERSONNEL1984 MAY VOL 25(3) 276.
DE GROUP-COUNSELING. SCHOOL-COUNSELING. ANOREXIA-NERVOSA. BULIMIA. COLLEGE-STUDENTS. HUMAN-FEMALES. ADULTHOOD.
AB RECRUITED 17 ANOREXIC AND/OR BULIMIC COLLEGE WOMEN TO TAKE PART IN AN EATING DISORDER GROUP FOR 3 SEMESTERS. ALL BUT 1 OF THESE STUDENTS PARTICIPATED VOLUNTARILY. SESSIONS WERE CONDUCTED FOR 1 HR EACH WEEK AND AVERAGED 5 STUDENTS PER SESSION. A 3-STAGE PROGRESSION WAS OBSERVED IN MANY GROUP MEMBERS OVER TREATMENT: ADMISSION OF PREVIOUS DENIAL, SHAME, AND EMBARRASSMENT; FOCUS OF DISCUSSION ON SYMPTOMS; AND FINALLY, FOCUS ON SELF-ESTEEM, FAMILY DYNAMICS, AND OTHER ROOT CAUSES. (1 REF)
Descriptors come from standardized lists of subject headings contained in lists called thesauri. If the database you are searching contains a thesaurus, it is helpful to use it for more precise searching. A thesaurus contains suggestions for Related Terms, Broader Terms or Narrower Terms. Sometimes it will also contain a Scope Note which gives you a definition of a particular term as it is used in the database.
EXERCISE 8: Using the subject of eating disorders in college students, use The Thesaurus of Psychological Index Terms to select descriptors for the concepts of eating disorders and college students.
NOTE: eating disorders refers to appetite disorders in the thesaurus. However, because the phrase eating disorders might appear in the title or abstract, include it among your search terms.
|FIRST CONCEPT||SECOND CONCEPT|
|eating disorders||college students|
Remember, check with the Peabody Library service desk if you have questions or need help.