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Interdisciplinary Research for Law Students and Faculty: Advanced Search Concepts

This guide provides instruction on the process of finding books and scholarly articles for MU School of Law students and faculty.

Field Searching

A database is a lot like a filing cabinet.  In the cabinet, you have folders that contain individual pieces of paper.  Like this a database is constructed of records that describe a larger work, such as a scholarly journal (the folder in our analogy) and records that describe the unique articles in that journal (the paper). 

In each record, there will be individual fields with discrete pieces of information, such as a field to list the title of the article or the author's name.  Some databases will offer a way to search those individual fields.  This can be a very powerful search that can help narrow down an overwhelming list of results.

Examples:

  • Narrowing a search to the article title field can help you find articles that explore that topic at more depth
  • Searching the author field can be helpful once you have a sense of who the dominent researchers are in a field.

Truncation

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Many databases offer truncation searching.  This means that you can search the root of a word and any of its derivatives simply by using the truncation symbol provided by the database.  Each database uses their own pre-determined symbols, so check the help provided to see what that might be.

Example:

  • psych! will search psychology, psychatrist, psychological, etc.
  • memor* will search memory, memories, memorize, etc.

Combining Terms

You probably remember all this from using Wexis, but just as a refresher...

  • And - use this operator to narrow a search. It returns results that have all the terms you have listed in it.
  • Or - use this operators to expand a search. It is especially good if you have synonomous terms (child or adolescent).
  • Not - use this to exclude a term that is not related to your topic but that keeps showing up in your results (memory not retention)
  • Parentheses - use these to inform the database in which order to run a search memory and (child or adolescent) processes differently than memory and child or adolescent.  Essentially it tells the database to process the terms in parentheses first, then to process from left to right. Generally.  With most systems. 

Subject Headings vs. Full Text Search

This is really the meat of any system that organizes information.

The Skinny on Finding Books

In libraries, most librarians use the Library of Congress subject heading system to describe the topic of a book.  The idea is that you would be able to find all the books that deal with that subject by doing a subject heading search.  And because we all use the same system (and honestly, we collaboratively created the records that describe books so most of use describe the same books the same way) it is a pretty uniform system and works pretty well.

In all, I'd suggest doing a keyword search for books, find a good one on your topic, then use the subject headings to find more.

 

The Lowdown on Finding Journal Articles

Each database vendor uses their own system to describe their material so there is no uniformity.  Most will have some sytem of thesaurus or controlled vocabularly, but it varies from system to system.  So, you have two choices.  1.) Figure out the system used by the database that you will be using or 2.) Do full text searching for articles on your topic, then use any functionality you can to find more.

In all, I'd suggest doing a keyword search for articles, find a good one on your topic, then use whatever descriptors are provided to find more.