Section 2 – Constructing Search Queries

Section 2 – Constructing Search Queries

Just as an index at the back of a book lets you quickly go to a topic within the book, online indexes and databases quickly sort through thousands of records to identify articles or books on a topic.  Before you choose a particular database for your search, it is helpful to know some fundamentals about searching.

The Magic of Indexing

The parts of each record or citation in an index or database are searchable.  These parts are called fields.  When you search by a field, the computer will “look” only in that field when it looks through all the records in the database.  It will try to match your search term. 

  • For example, an author search looks only in the author field.
  • Title search looks only in the title field.
  • Subject search looks only in the subject heading field.
  • Date search looks only in the date field.
  • But…a Keyword search looks for items anywhere in the record.  It is the broadest search.

Keyword Searching

Keyword searching allows you to search all of the fields of a record (author, title, year, subject, abstract, etc.) at the same time.  Also, keyword searching allows you to combine more than one topic in a search, for example “christian and leadership.”

Brainstorm Some Keyword Terms

You will need to pick out the most important keywords for your topic.  These are generally nouns.

It is helpful to write out your topic as a sentence or a question.  Let’s say your topic is setting priorities in caring for a congregation.  A topic question might be…

            How do pastors set priorities in pastoral care?

Other related words and/or synonyms for pastors and priorities and pastoral care might be: 

            pastor(s)…minister(s), clergy(man), shepherd(s), priest(s)

            priority(ies)…important, importance, preference(s), attention, precedence. role(s)

            pastoral care…shepherding, concern

Notice that we’ve included variations of keywords such as plurals.  Include any alternate spellings of words or abbreviations, too.  It is best to avoid using long phrases.  If you can’t think of concepts and ideas, you can always refer to a subject encyclopedia or synonym dictionary to get those creative juices flowing.             

There are some good tools you can use in keyword searching.

1.  Connectors

Connectors (Boolean operators) are used in keyword searches to link together two or more terms.  The most commonly used connectors are: AND and OR.

AND narrows a search.  You get fewer records because both concepts must be present in the records found.  Use AND to combine different concepts in one search.

For example, say you are searching for information on the role of pastors in pastoral care.  You might construct your search query like this…

            pastors AND shepherding AND priorities

In the example above the search engine will retrieve only records that contain all three terms—pastors, shepherding, priorities.

OR broadens a search.  You get more records because OR includes each of the concepts separately, as well as both concepts when found together.  OR is often used to link together related concepts. For example, the search query…

            pastors OR pastoral care OR shepherding OR concern

would retrieve records with any combination of the four terms.

The connectors AND, OR, and NOT are also know as “Boolean Operators.”  They take their name from George Boole (1815-1864), a self-taught mathematician whose work on mathematical logic, algebra and the binary systems of 0 and 1, had a unique influence upon the development of computers.

2.  Truncation

Truncation is like a wildcard.  Added to the stem of a word, it will find that stem plus anything that comes after it.  The symbol used to truncate a word depends on the index, database, or Web search engine you are using.  Some use the ? as the truncation symbol, some use the *.  For example leader* will retrieve records on leader, leaders, and leadership.  

3.  Nesting

Nesting keeps concepts that are alike together and tells a search engine to search terms in the parentheses first.  Use parentheses to group concepts when you use two or more connectors.  For example, the search query…

  • theology AND (pentecostal OR charismatic)

will retrieve records on Pentecostal theology as well as items on Charismatic theology.

Types of Databases

The two types of databases that you will most commonly use are:

            1.  The Library Catalog (OPAC)

            2.  Article Indexes

Library catalogs (OPACS) organize all of the materials a library purchases.  These include records for books, magazines, journal, newspapers, videos, sound recording, images, etc.  The library catalog does not typically include articles.

Article indexes are used to identify articles on a topic. 

  • Some articles indexes such as Academic Search Elite are general or multi-disciplinary indexes.
  • Some indexes, such as ATLA Religion database, specialize in a particular subject area.

Way to go!

You’ve completed the section Constructing Search Queries and should be able to:

  • write a topic question
  • identify keywords for a topic
  • use connectors and truncation in constructing a search
  • understand the difference between keyword and subject searching

Before continuing on to section 3, take this self-test.

Self-Test

1.  Which of the following are effective strategies for choosing search terms? (Choose all that apply.)

            A.  Write out your topic in a sentence or question

            B.  Highlight the main terms and phrases

            C.  Brainstorm synonyms, broader terms, and narrower terms

            D.  List abbreviations and alternate spelling of words

            E.  Check a subject encyclopedia for ideas and concepts

2.  In library indexes and databases the records have searchable fields such as ‘author’, ‘title’ and ‘subject headings’.  (Choose one.)

            A.  True         

            B.  False

3.  Imagine you are searching a library database for articles about college students’ jobs.  Choose the better search strategy from each of the examples below.  (Choose one answer for each question.)

            A.  a.  students who work

                  b.  students and work

            B.  a.  work and employment and job and students

                  b. (work or employment or job) and students

4.  Truncation is (Choose one.)

            A.  A way to search for alternate endings of words

            B.  Having a lot of luggage

5.  Using the connector OR in a search (Choose one.)

            A.  broadens your search

            B.  narrows your search

  6.  You will get MORE results from which of these searches? (Choose one.)

            A.  tobacco and advertising and children

            B.  tobacco or advertising or children

7.  Which one of these search types looks for terms anywhere in the record of a book or article? 
     (Choose one.)

            A.  Title search

            B.  Subject search

            C.  Keyword search

            D.  Author search

8.  Using the connector AND broadens your search, and you will get more records back. 
     (Choose one.)

            A.  True

            B.  False

9.  Which one of these records is NOT typically found in a library catalog?  (Choose one.)

            A.  Books

            B.  Articles

            C.  Magazines

            D.  Newspapers

 

Answer key:

            1.  All of these strategies are effective in choosing search terms.

            2.  True.  Fields help you search more efficiently when you know specific information
                 about an article.  Other common fields are date, language and source.

            3.  A.  b is the correct response.  Connect different ideas with AND.

                 B.  b is the right answer.  The terms that are synonymous for the same idea are connected with OR.  You are saying you want articles with one term OR another.

            4.  A is correct.  Truncation is a way to search for alternate endings of words.

            5.  A is right.  The connector OR broadens your search because either or both of the terms can be present.

            6.  The correct answer is B.  The connector OR broadens your search.

            7.  C.  A keyword search looks for terms anywhere in the record of a book or article.

            8.  B is the right answer.  The AND connector narrows your search because both terms must be present.

            9.  The correct answer is B.  Articles are not found in a library catalog.  You’ll need to use an article index to identify an article on a topic.

  TYPES OF INFORMATION SOURCES                                                                                                                                         FINDING BOOKS