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MUSI5300: Research Techniques: Search Tips

Search Strategies

Develop a Search Strategy

Before beginning your research, it’s a good idea to make a plan on how you will go about searching the various databases and resources out there.  One method that I find useful is to visually map out my topic, starting with the major idea, and brainstorming about related issues and ideas.  Not only will this help you to identify areas that you might want to research more thoroughly, but it also helps to come up with some good keywords for your searches.

Another method is to come up with a list of research questions…

•    What is the influence of the trombone on salsa music?
•    What are the differences between the improvisational practices of saxophonists Charlie Parker and Julian Adderley?

Using these questions, identify the important terms and/or phrases in each and create a column for each, on a blank sheet of paper.  I find it best to head the first column with the most important term, and work your way down to the least.  You should, ideally, only have 3 or 4 columns.  If you find that you’ve got more, you may need to narrow to focus of your question, a bit.

What is the influence of the trombone on salsa music?

Trombone    Salsa Music    Influence

Under each column, come up with Broader terms (brass instruments, wind instruments, etc.), Narrower terms (bass trombone, glissando, etc.), and Similar terms (sackbut, valve trombone, etc.).

Trombone     Salsa Music     Influence
brass instruments Latin music impact
bass trombone Cuban music
sackbut Puerto Rican music
glissando


These columns will be used for more advanced searches, or if you run into a roadblock with a particular search term.

Boolean Operators

Searching with AND, OR and NOT

Once you’ve developed your terms, you can begin entering them into the Online Catalog, subject databases or even a Google search.  You'll find that fewer terms are often needed for the Library Catalog, while more are necessary for Internet searches.  In terms of database searches, though, the following applies.

Often, the Library databases are set to default to a simple Keyword search.  This simply takes the terms you enter and tries to match them with words in an article or citation.  Boolean terms can help to focus your search, providing more control over how your terms are identified.
 
Boolean terms are simple, mathematical words (AND, OR, NOT, etc.) that help to create more complex searches.  This is where our list of alternate terms (above) comes into play.  Because most databases are matching tools (taking exactly what you enter and matching it with parts of an article record), it is important to be able to communicate your intent, clearly.

 

AND:    

AND combines two different concepts, requiring that both concepts be present in an individual article.

In our columns, above, AND would be used horizontally, and would return fewer results.

Trombone AND Salsa Music

OR:    

OR takes two or more similar concepts, allowing your results to include either the first term, the second
term, or both terms.

Using OR will return more results, and should be used with terms within a specific column of our chart.

Trombone OR Sackbut

NOT:    

NOT takes the first term, but omits the second.

Using NOT will return fewer results.

Nuclear NOT Family


These Boolean terms can be combined into complex searches, although many databases have Advanced Search features that make this easier to do.

Keyword Handouts

Choosing the right keywords is an important step to successful research, and this handout is a way to identify possible terminology.

A term might work well in one database, but not at all in another.  As you read, you'll likely find other terms to add to this list, or through tools like the Thesaurus or Subject Terms lists in specific databases.  

This is a 'live' list and should continue to grow as you explore your topic.  You might also keep separate lists for different questions you are asking.

Truncation

Truncating Words

Truncation is a method by which you are able to search for words with the same root, without having to enter each into your search.  For instance, if you were looking for articles on Musicology, you may also want to find those that refer to Musicological or Musicologists.  In order to do this, you would use a truncation symbol.

In most cases, the asterisk (*) is used, although some databases use other symbols:

Musicolog* = Musicology, Musicological, Musicology

Another useful symbol is the wildcard symbol (usually a ‘?’), which is used to replace a single character in a word, or words, that may differ by a single letter:

Wom?n    = Woman, Women