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Advanced Search Techniques


Your search for information has hit a brick wall. Before you throw the computer, or something else, out the nearest window, here are some tips on getting your research back on track.

Tip #1: Check Your Search Terms

If your keywords turn up too many results, then they are probably too broad and you have a few options. Are there any additional keyword terms that you can add to your search? Is there any way that the database will allow you to narrow the date of the results, or other criteria. If you are getting too few results: Do any of the terms have any synonyms you can use instead? Would be it better if you simply deleted one of the terms all together?

EX 1. Topic: Use of public libraries in Nazi Germany. Original key terms: Nazi Germany, public libraries Broader terms: Germany, libraries Narrower terms: 1945, Nazi Germany, public libraries, propaganda, youth services

If you aren't having any luck with keywords, try finding subject headings that reflect your topic. Once you find one or two items that match your topic, then you can use their subject headings to see how information professionals described the topic. 

EX. 2 Sample subject terms from Discovery: National Socialism, World War, 1939-1945, Germany History 1933-1945, Germany National Socialism

Tip #2: Reassess Where You're Looking for Information

Make sure that the database you are using matches your subject. Some of our databases are general, meaning that they cover a number of subject areas. These can be a great if you are not sure where to start. If you are coming up with too much information maybe you need to move from the general databases to one that deals only with your subject area. Using the option to view databases by subject to see which ones fit your topic.

Along with dealing with specific disciplines, the databases may also only deal with a specific type of information. For example, the database Library and Information Science Technology Abstracts only contains content related to the work of information professionals.

You also need to identifying the format of information you need. If you are looking for a general overview, encyclopedias or handbooks are better than journal articles, which usually only deal with one specific aspect.

Tip #3: Check the Databases' Help Features

If you are still having trouble using the databases, click on their help link. This information varies depending on the database, but typically it will provide suggestions for using the database’s search features along with a number of search strategies and tips. Since each database is unique, it is best to become familiar with its features before searching. The information can help you:

  • Narrow your search results
  • Use features such as Boolean Operators or Truncation
  • Organize your results

Tip #4: Expand Your Search to Other Libraries

There may be times that our library may not have all the materials that you need. However, there are a number of ways that you can search the collections of other libraries, and request access.

  • The library's Discovery allows you to expand your search to include items from over 10,000 libraries worldwide. Once you’ve found an item you can request it through Interlibrary Loan.
  • Google Scholar can allow you to see additional articles available on the web. You can use Interlibrary Loan to access the full text for free.
  • Students from Bridgewater College can check out materials from libraries at Eastern Mennonite University, James Madison University, Shenandoah University and Mary Baldwin College. You just need to bring your college ID.

Tip #5: Choose A Different Topic

I know it sounds drastic, but if a revision of your search terms does not help your search, then you may have to choose a different topic, or at least modify the one you have. If you start your research early, you should have plenty of time to revise your search focus. Make an appointment with your friendly neighborhood librarian, who can help you pick a new topic or refine the one you already have!