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Prepare, plan, do: a case study

First year undergraduate level project: Build a simple seismograph

 

Nick’s project “…aims to construct a simple seismograph sensitive enough to have a good chance of detecting one or two earthquakes in a month or so. An essential part of the project will be to learn about seismology and what it tells us about the interior of the earth. You will also be encouraged to find out how a state-of-the-art seismograph works!

 

We are almost certain to pick up spurious signals from internally-generated movements of the Blackett Building, so it will be necessary to compare our records with data from the UK seismograph network.

 

Some basic electronics will probably become involved, and data acquisition using a digital data logger is envisaged.” (Bignell, 2007)

 

Where should he start? He doesn’t know much at all about seismographs or seismology. He also needs to remember that this project will involve some experimental work and data analysis as well as some research.

  1. He decides to start by doing some background work on seismology and seismographs. A Google search for ‘seismology’ finds him a number of websites, including that of the British Geological Survey, which has an education page which is a good start. It turns out they also have some useful datasets available online  .
  2. After he tries Google, he decides to also check what’s available in the library. Using the Library Search option found on the library home page to search Books and more, he finds a book on an introduction to seismiology, which will be a useful reference..
  3. Next Nick develops a plan for building his seismograph, including a budget and time estimate. He runs this by his supervisor before he builds it.

If Nick was completing this project at an MSci/MSc level, then there would be additional research and analysis involved:

MSci / MSc level project: Build a simple seismograph and search for evidence for a liquid outer core.

If Nick was working on this for his MSci or MSc project then he would follow steps 1 – 3 outlined above, however he would also search the journal literature.

  1. To search for evidence for seismic signals you would expect from the liquid outer core, he would need to search  a database called Web of Science to find peer reviewed journal articles to see what other researchers have found.. He can do a topic search on liquid outer core and seismo* (which includes seismology and seismographs) to identify recent research articles written on the subject. He identifies one key article as a result and can read this online so can do this from home rather than staying in the library. This article also allows him to find other relevant articles via the References list and the Cited articles list.
  2. In addition to this research, Nick would also be collecting data and analysising it, ideally early in the process, but this may not happen until the end of the process.

 

The references Nick used:

 

Bignell, K. (2007) Build a simple seismograph. [Online] Available from: http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/physicsuglabs/firstyearlab/projects/previousprojects/projectproposals2007 [Accessed 1 September 2011].

 

British Geological Survey (2011) Geoindex WMS Services [Online] Available from: http://www.bgs.ac.uk/geoindex/wms.htm [Accessed 12 September 2011].

Shearer, P.M. (2009) Introduction to seismology. 2nd edition. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

 

Tkalcic, H., Kennett, B.L.N., & Cormier, V.F. (2009) On the inner-outer core density contrast from PKiKP/PcP amplitude ratios and uncertainties caused by seismic noise. Geophysical Journal International, [Online] 179 (1), 425-443 Available from: DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-246X.2009.04294.x [Accessed 12 September 2011].

 

Search tools he used: Google, the library catalogue and Web of Science.

 

 



Plan: your search strategy

Once you’ve decided on what information you need, and the search tool you’re going to use, then you need to think about the way in which you’re going to search. There are some basic points to keep in mind when you are planning a search strategy regardless of what kind of search tool you are using. You will find that the more successful searches you do, the better your skills will become – like all activities, searching for information improves with practice.

 

1. Identify key terms and authors

Once you have chosen your search tool(s), you need to think about keywords for your given subject. If this was your topic:

‘Properties of a laser beam.’

You would need to break it down into separate keywords / subjects

  • properties
  • laser
  • beam

You may also find it useful to do some preliminary reading in textbooks and encyclopaedias which will help you identify some keywords, and perhaps also key authors.

2. Boolean searching

Use search or Boolean operators to combine your terms:

  • AND

Example

laser and beam

Items containing BOTH words will now be searched for. Using ‘and’ will usually result in fewer but more relevant hits.

  • OR

Example

laser or beam

Items containing EITHER word will now be searched for

  • Use parentheses to execute part of the search separately. This is used when you use the search operator OR.

Example

beam and (laser or particle)

Using brackets helps structure your search by breaking it down into sections. The following will now be searched for:

beam and laser
beam
and particle
laser
and particle and beam

  • Put quotation marks around a group of words to search for a phrase

Example

laser beams

  • The term NOT’ is a stop word

Example

laser beams not particle beams

Any items referring to particle beams will not be retrieved.

Using truncation and wildcards

The easiest way to search for words that look similar is to use truncation, or a wildcard. The symbols will vary according to the database you are using (use the help page to find out what is the required symbol), but the principles are always the same.

By using the following symbols at the end of a word you can retrieve variant endings of a word.

$ US
*UK

Example

Simulat$

will retrieve references containing the words:

simulate, simulates, simulated, simulator

Example

propert*

will retrieve references containing the words:

property, properties

  • Use a wildcard to replace a letter in the middle of a word,

Example

m?n

will retrieve references containing the words men or man.

Example

polari?e

The terms polarize (US spelling) or polarize (UK spelling) will now be searched for

3. Field restriction

Most databases allow you to search specific fields only. For instance, if you know that Ian Lean has written a useful paper on your subject, you may want to search for Lean and limit your search to the author field. Similarly, if you have retrieved far too many papers on your chosen topics, you may want to limit your search to title only.

4. Range limits

Some databases allow you to apply limits such as language, date of publication, and publication type. Again, if you have retrieved too many references, you may want to limit your search to a shorter date range, or to only retrieve review articles.

 

Example search

If you are interested in finding information about modelling the motion of a simple pendulum:

  • identify the key terms (and authors)

modelling
motion
simple pendulum

  • think of alternative words or phrases for your key terms

modeling

movement

  • combine your terms using truncation and parentheses where required

(modelling or modeling) and (motion or movement) and ”simple pendulum”

 

 



Prepare, plan, do: a case study

Have another look at the case study. What did Matthew do to ensure that the information he found was authoritative? Are there other search tools he could have used?

 

Superbugs and their resistance to antibiotics

Matthew is going to give a presentation on superbugs and their resistance to antibiotics to his tutorial group.

He decides to start his research by checking what is available in the library. A search of the library catalogue using the keyword ‘superbug’ is disappointing with only one book found. Then he remembers the librarian talking about using different keywords when searching, so he jots down some alternative search terms to use including ‘MRSA’. When Matthew searches for ‘MRSA’ in the library catalogue he finds 2 promising books – MRSA in practice and MRSA : current perspectives – that look like they will cover the basics. These will be useful but the information in books can be out of date in comparison to current research and Matthew really needs some up-to-date information. Perhaps he should try searching the internet?

A Google search for ‘superbug MRSA’ retrieves tens of thousands of results. He is not sure which ones he should use but he did find a useful document by the Department of Health which he knows he can trust.

He remembers his librarian mentioned Intute – a website that contains links to internet resources that have been objectively evaluated. Typing in ‘superbug’ finds nothing but typing in ‘MRSA’ finds 29 websites which he knows will be from reliable sources. Among them he finds 2 Department of Health documents – so he knows his decision to use the Department of Health was correct. He also finds a useful website from the Association of Medical Microbiologists.

Matthew is pleased with what he has found so far but he knows he needs some scholarly information. He needs to draw on current research to demonstrate to his tutorial group that he is aware of the academic literature on the topic. His librarian suggests searching Web of Knowledge which is a database platform that allows him to search the Web of Science database and other databases in one search. The librarian also suggests searching PubMed a database that covers the biomedical subjects.

Matthew decides initially to search on Web of Knowledge, he finds many useful results including some journal articles and a conference proceeding. Journals are good – Matthew’s tutor said that students should use this type of material in their research, so he’s pleased he’s found these. Some of the journal articles are available online as well, such as some published in a journal called Nature that is available online, so Matthew can read them at home rather than stay in the library all day.

Matthew remembers reading articles in newspapers about MRSA and superbugs – maybe they would be useful to give him insight into how society views it. He asks his librarian if there is a way of viewing newspaper articles – without having to search each webpage of each newspaper. His librarian suggests he tries a database called Factiva which not only collates journal articles but also newspaper articles and press releases.

By searching Factiva, Matthew found some useful newspaper articles from The Sunday Times and a press release. They were available to read online and Matthew also had the option of being able to email the articles he was interested in to himself.

The references Matthew used:

Association of Medical Microbiologists. (1995) The facts about… MRSA. [Online] Available from: http://www.amm.co.uk/files/factsabout/fa_mrsa.htm [Accessed 21st August 2000].

Cannon, G. (1995) Superbug: nature’s revenge: why antibiotics can breed disease. London, Virgin.

Department of Health. (no date) A simple guide to MRSA. [Online] Available from: http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/@dh/@en/documents/digitalasset/dh_4113479.pdf [Accessed 21st August 2009].

Department of Health. (2005) MRSA surveillance system: results. [Online] Available from: http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Publications/PublicationsStatistics/DH_4085951 [Accessed 21st August 2009].

Fluit, A. C. & Schmitz, F.J. (2003) MRSA: current perspectives. Wymondham, Caister Academic.

Giles, J. (2004) Superbug genome excels at passing on drug resistance. Nature. [Online] 430 ( 6996) , 126-126. Available from: http://newisiknowledge.com [Accessed 21st August 2009].

Goldstein, F. W. (2007) Combating resistance in a challenging, changing environment. In: 16th European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ECCMID 2006) April 1-4, 2006. Oxford, Blackwell Scientific. pp. 2-6.

Gordon, Tom. (Sunday 15th July 2007) Cleaning ‘is not answer to rid wards of bugs’. The Sunday Times. [Online] Available from: http://global.factiva.com [Accessed 21st August 2009].

Gould, I. M. (2007) MRSA in practice. London, Royal Society of Medicine Press.

Griggs, Carly. ( Friday 24th August 2007 ) Superbug figures on the rise. Newsquest Media Group Newspapers. [Online] Available from: http://global.factiva.com [Accessed 21st August 2009].

MacKenzie, F.M., Bruce, J., Struelens, M.J., Goossens, H., Mollison, J. & Gould, I.M. (2007) Antimicrobial drug use and infection control practices associated with the prevalence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in European hospitals. Clinical Microbiology and Infection. [Online] 13(3), 269–276. Available from: http://www.pubmed.gov [Accessed 21st August 2009].

 



Plan: Your search strategy

Once you’ve decided on what information you need, and the search tool you’re going to use, then you need to think about the way in which you’re going to search. There are some basic points to keep in mind when you are planning a search strategy regardless of what kind of search tool you are using. You will find that the more successful searches you do, the better your skills will become – like all activities, searching for information improves with practice.

 

1. Identify key terms and authors

Once you have chosen your search tool(s), you need to think about keywords for your given subject. If this was your topic:

‘Finding out about the sources of water pollution by inorganic contaminants’

You would need to break it down into separate keywords / subjects

  • Water pollution
  • Inorganic
  • Sources
  • Contaminants

You may also find it useful to do some preliminary reading in textbooks and encyclopaedias which will help you identify some keywords, and perhaps also key authors.

2. Boolean searching

Use search or Boolean operators to combine your terms:

  • AND

Example

blood and glucose

Items containing BOTH words will now be searched for. Using ‘and’ will usually result in fewer but more relevant hits.

  • OR

Example

glucose or sugar

Items containing EITHER word will now be searched for

  • Use parentheses to execute part of the search separately. This is used when you use the search operator OR.

Example

blood and (glucose or sugar)

Using brackets helps structure your search by breaking it down into sections. The following will now be searched for:

blood and glucose
blood and sugar
blood and glucose and sugar

  • Put quotation marks around a group of words to search for a phrase

Example

diabetes mellitus

  • The term NOT’ is a stop word

Example

Hyperglycemia not Hypoglycemia,

Any items referring to Hypoglycemia will not be retrieved.

Using truncation and wildcards

The easiest way to search for words that look similar is to use truncation, or a wildcard. The symbols will vary according to the database you are using (use the help page to find out what is the required symbol), but the principles are always the same.

By using the following symbols at the end of a word you can retrieve variant endings of a word.

$ US
*UK

Example

Contamina$

will retrieve references containing the words:
contamination, contaminants, contaminated, contaminate, contaminates.

Example

diseas*

will retrieve references containing the words:
disease, diseased, diseases.

  • Use a wildcard to replace a letter in the middle of a word

Example

m?n

will retrieve references containing the words men or man.

Example

colo?r

The terms color (US spelling) or colour (UK spelling) will now be searched for

 

3. Field restriction

Most databases allow you to search specific fields only. For instance, if you know that Ian Lean has written a useful paper on your subject, you may want to search for Lean and limit your search to the author field. Similarly, if you have retrieved far too many papers on your chosen topics, you may want to limit your search to title only.

4. Range limits

Some databases allow you to apply limits such as language, date of publication, and publication type. Again, if you have retrieved too many references, you may want to limit your search to a shorter date range, or to only retrieve review articles.

 

Example search

The role of molecular chaperones in protein folding and cell death

  • identify the key terms (and authors)


chaperones
protein folding
cell death

  • think of alternative words or phrases for your key terms

chaperones or chaperonin or heat shock protein or hsp
cell death or apoptosis or necrosis

  • combine your terms using truncation and parentheses where required

(chaperon* or ‘heat shock protein*’ or hsp) and ‘protein* fold*’ and (‘cell death’ or apoptosis or necrosis)

 

 



Prepare, plan, do: a case study

Have another look at the case study. What did Muhammad do to ensure that the information he found was authoritative? Are there other search tools he could have used?

Muhammad is writing a report on whether earthquakes can be reliably predicted.

He starts out by searching Google. He gets over 750,000 hits but the first few look ok. There’s a Wikipedia page on earthquake prediction which gives some basic background information. But Muhammad knows from speaking to his lecturer that he’ll need to use other information sources than Wikipedia if he wants to get a good grade. From Google he also finds a useful paper from the University of Washington on earthquake prediction as well as a short article from the National Geographic.

Muhammad then decides he should have a look in the library catalogue to see if the library has any books on earthquake prediction. He smiles when he sees the library has a copy of Earthquake prediction by Saumitra Mukherjee which was published in 2007. He also finds another potentially useful book by Susan Hough called Earthshaking science which was published in 2002.

He then remembers Intute:Earth Sciences which has been recommended by his librarian. He has been told that it only contains resources that have been evaluated by people with a knowledge of geology.

Muhammad types ‘earthquake prediction’ into the Intute:Earth Sciences search box and gets 14 hits, most of which look pretty useful. Among the resources he finds is a website put together by the Japanese Research Center for Earthquake Prediction. He also finds a recent report by the US Geological Survey and two other organisations which contains a section on predicting earthquakes.

The information Muhammad has found so far is very useful, but he wonders if there has been any more recent research papers published on earthquake prediction. From looking at the Library’s Key Electronic Resources Guide, Muhammad notices that the Web of Science database looks like it could be useful. Web of Science will give Muhammad access to over 8,000 international journals, many of which are available in full text. This is just the thing he needs to get his hands on the latest research.

A search in Web of Science using ‘earthquake prediction’ as search terms brings up over 2500 records, but the first few records look very useful. For example, there is an article titles ‘Uncertainty in early warning predictions of engineering ground motion parameters: What really matters?By clicking on the SFX button Muhammad can quickly determine whether the Library has the full text available for this journal article. And it does!

 

The 8 references Muhammad used were:

  1. 1.    Wikipedia (2009) Earthquake prediction. [Online] Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earthquake_prediction.
    [Accessed: 16 March 2009].
  2. 2.    Ludwin, R (2004) The Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network. [Online] Available from: http://www.pnsn.org/INFO_GENERAL/eq_prediction.html.
    [Accessed: 16 March 2009].
  3. 4.    Mukherjee, Saumitra (2007) Earthquake prediction. Boston, Brill.
  4. 5.    Hough, Susan (2002) Earthshaking science: what we know (and don’t know) about earthquakes. Oxford, Princeton University Press.
  5. 6.    Research Center for Earthquake Prediction (2008) Earthquakes in Southwest Japan. [Online] Available from: http://www.rcep.dpri.kyoto-u.ac.jp/main/HomeE.html. [Accessed: 16 March 2009].
  6. 7.    USGS, SCEC and CGS (2008) The Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast, Version 2 (UCERF 2). [Online]. Available from: http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2007/1437/of2007-1437_text.pdf.
    [Accessed: 16 March 2009].
  7. 8.    Iervolino I, Giorgio M, Galasso C, et al. (2009) Uncertainty in early warning predictions of engineering ground motion parameters: What really matters?
    Geophysical Research Letters. [Online] 36. Available from: http://www.agu.org/journals/gl/gl0904/2008GL036644/2008GL036644.pdf.
    [Accessed: 16 March 2009].

3.    Achenbach, Joel (2006) The Next Big One: Where on Earth Will It Strike? National Geographic magazine [Online]. Available from: http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural-disasters/earthquake-technology.html. [Accessed: 16 March 2009].

Search tools he used: Google, library catalogue, Intute: Earth Sciences, Web of Science

 



Plan: your search strategy

Once you’ve decided on what information you need, and the search tool you’re going to use, then you need to think about the way in which you’re going to search. There are some basic points to keep in mind when you are planning a search strategy regardless of what kind of search tool you are using. You will find that the more successful searches you do, the better your skills will become – like all activities, searching for information improves with practice.

1. Identify key terms and authors

Once you have chosen your search tool(s), you need to think about keywords for your given subject. If this was your topic:

 

‘Discuss William Smith’s influence on geological mapping’.

 

You would need to break it down into separate keywords / subjects

 

  • Smith
  • geology
  • mapping

 

You may also find it useful to do some preliminary reading in textbooks and encyclopaedias which will help you identify some keywords, and perhaps also key authors.

2. Boolean searching

Use search or Boolean operators to combine your terms:

  • AND

Example

smith and map

Items containing BOTH words will now be searched for. Using ‘and’ will usually result in fewer but more relevant hits.

  • OR

Example

oil or petroleum

Items containing EITHER word will now be searched for

  • Use parentheses to execute part of the search separately. This is used when you use the search operator OR.

Example

earthquake and (richter or mercalli)

Using brackets helps structure your search by breaking it down into sections. The following will now be searched for:

earthquake and richter
earthquake
and mercalli
earthquake
and richter and mercalli

  • Put quotation marks around a group of words to search for a phrase

Example

plate tectonics

  • The term NOT’ is a stop word

Example

geological not topographical maps

Any items referring to topographical maps will not be retrieved.

Using truncation and wildcards

The easiest way to search for words that look similar is to use truncation, or a wildcard. The symbols will vary according to the database you are using (use the help page to find out what is the required symbol), but the principles are always the same.

By using the following symbols at the end of a word you can retrieve variant endings of a word.

$ – US
* – UK

Example

geol$

will retrieve references containing the words:

geology, geologist/s, geologic, geological

Example

seism*

will retrieve references containing the words:

seismology, seismic, seismicity, seismologist/s, seismogram/s, seismograph/s

  • Use a wildcard to replace a letter in the middle of a word,

Example

m?n

will retrieve references containing the words men or man.

Example

behavi?r

The terms behavior (US spelling) or behaviour (UK spelling) will now be searched for.

3. Field restriction

Most databases allow you to search specific fields only. For instance, if you know that Ian Lean has written a useful paper on your subject, you may want to search for Lean and limit your search to the author field. Similarly, if you have retrieved far too many papers on your chosen topics, you may want to limit your search to title only.

4. Range limits

Some databases allow you to apply limits such as language, date of publication, and publication type. Again, if you have retrieved too many references, you may want to limit your search to a shorter date range, or to only retrieve review articles.

 

Example search

If you are interested in finding information about the role of stress in rock deformation:

  • identify the key terms (and authors)

role
stress
rock deformation

  • think of alternative words or phrases for your key terms

function
pressure / compression / tension
erosion / corrosion

  • combine your terms using truncation and parentheses where required

(role or function) and (stress or compression or tension or pressure) and rock and (deformation or erosion or corrosion)

 

 



Prepare, plan, do: A case study

Have another look at the case study. What did Muhammad do to ensure that the information he found was authoritative? Are there other search tools he could have used?

Muhammad is writing a report on whether earthquakes can be reliably predicted.

He starts out by searching Google. He gets over 750,000 hits but the first few look ok. There’s a Wikipedia page on earthquake prediction which gives some basic background information. But Muhammad knows from speaking to his lecturer that he’ll need to use other information sources than Wikipedia if he wants to get a good grade. From Google he also finds a useful paper from the University of Washington on earthquake prediction as well as a short article from the National Geographic.

Muhammad then decides he should have a look in the library catalogue to see if the library has any books on earthquake prediction. He smiles when he sees the library has a copy of Earthquake prediction by Saumitra Mukherjee which was published in 2007. He also finds another potentially useful book by Susan Hough called Earthshaking science which was published in 2002.

He then remembers Intute:Earth Sciences which has been recommended by his librarian. He has been told that it only contains resources that have been evaluated by people with a knowledge of geology.

Muhammad types ‘earthquake prediction’ into the Intute:Earth Sciences search box and gets 14 hits, most of which look pretty useful. Among the resources he finds is a website put together by the Japanese Research Center for Earthquake Prediction. He also finds a recent report by the US Geological Survey and two other organisations which contains a section on predicting earthquakes.

The information Muhammad has found so far is very useful, but he wonders if there has been any more recent research papers published on earthquake prediction. From looking at the Library’s Key Electronic Resources Guide, Muhammad notices that the Web of Science database looks like it could be useful. Web of Science will give Muhammad access to over 8,000 international journals, many of which are available in full text. This is just the thing he needs to get his hands on the latest research.

A search in Web of Science using ‘earthquake prediction’ as search terms brings up over 2500 records, but the first few records look very useful. For example, there is an article titles ‘Uncertainty in early warning predictions of engineering ground motion parameters: What really matters?By clicking on the SFX button Muhammad can quickly determine whether the Library has the full text available for this journal article. And it does!

 

The 8 references Muhammad used were:

  1. 1.    Wikipedia (2009) Earthquake prediction. [Online] Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earthquake_prediction.
    [Accessed: 16 March 2009].
  2. 2.    Ludwin, R (2004) The Pacific Northwest Seismograph Network. [Online] Available from: http://www.pnsn.org/INFO_GENERAL/eq_prediction.html.
    [Accessed: 16 March 2009].
  3. 4.    Mukherjee, Saumitra (2007) Earthquake prediction. Boston, Brill.
  4. 5.    Hough, Susan (2002) Earthshaking science: what we know (and don’t know) about earthquakes. Oxford, Princeton University Press.
  5. 6.    Research Center for Earthquake Prediction (2008) Earthquakes in Southwest Japan. [Online] Available from: http://www.rcep.dpri.kyoto-u.ac.jp/main/HomeE.html. [Accessed: 16 March 2009].
  6. 7.    USGS, SCEC and CGS (2008) The Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast, Version 2 (UCERF 2). [Online]. Available from: http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2007/1437/of2007-1437_text.pdf.
    [Accessed: 16 March 2009].
  7. 8.    Iervolino I, Giorgio M, Galasso C, et al. (2009) Uncertainty in early warning predictions of engineering ground motion parameters: What really matters?
    Geophysical Research Letters. [Online] 36. Available from: http://www.agu.org/journals/gl/gl0904/2008GL036644/2008GL036644.pdf.
    [Accessed: 16 March 2009].

3.    Achenbach, Joel (2006) The Next Big One: Where on Earth Will It Strike? National Geographic magazine [Online]. Available from: http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural-disasters/earthquake-technology.html. [Accessed: 16 March 2009].

Search tools he used: Google, library catalogue, Intute: Earth Sciences, Web of Science

 



Plan: Your search strategy

 

Once you’ve decided on what information you need, and the search tool you’re going to use, then you need to think about the way in which you’re going to search. There are some basic points to keep in mind when you are planning a search strategy regardless of what kind of search tool you are using. You will find that the more successful searches you do, the better your skills will become – like all activities, searching for information improves with practice.

 

1. Identify key terms and authors

Once you have chosen your search tool(s), you need to think about keywords for your given subject. If this was your topic:

 

‘Discuss William Smith’s influence on geological mapping’.

 

You would need to break it down into separate keywords / subjects

 

  • Smith
  • geology
  • mapping

 

You may also find it useful to do some preliminary reading in textbooks and encyclopaedias which will help you identify some keywords, and perhaps also key authors.

2. Boolean searching

Use search or Boolean operators to combine your terms:

  • AND

Example

smith and map

Items containing BOTH words will now be searched for. Using ‘and’ will usually result in fewer but more relevant hits.

  • OR

Example

oil or petroleum

Items containing EITHER word will now be searched for

  • Use parentheses to execute part of the search separately. This is used when you use the search operator OR.

Example

earthquake and (richter or mercalli)

Using brackets helps structure your search by breaking it down into sections. The following will now be searched for:

earthquake and richter
earthquake
and mercalli
earthquake
and richter and mercalli

  • Put quotation marks around a group of words to search for a phrase

Example

plate tectonics

  • The term NOT’ is a stop word

Example

geological not topographical maps

Any items referring to topographical maps will not be retrieved.

Using truncation and wildcards

The easiest way to search for words that look similar is to use truncation, or a wildcard. The symbols will vary according to the database you are using (use the help page to find out what is the required symbol), but the principles are always the same.

By using the following symbols at the end of a word you can retrieve variant endings of a word.

$ – US
* – UK

Example

geol$

will retrieve references containing the words:

geology, geologist/s, geologic, geological

Example

seism*

will retrieve references containing the words:

seismology, seismic, seismicity, seismologist/s, seismogram/s, seismograph/s

  • Use a wildcard to replace a letter in the middle of a word,

Example

m?n

will retrieve references containing the words men or man.

Example

behavi?r

The terms behavior (US spelling) or behaviour (UK spelling) will now be searched for.

3. Field restriction

Most databases allow you to search specific fields only. For instance, if you know that Ian Lean has written a useful paper on your subject, you may want to search for Lean and limit your search to the author field. Similarly, if you have retrieved far too many papers on your chosen topics, you may want to limit your search to title only.

4. Range limits

Some databases allow you to apply limits such as language, date of publication, and publication type. Again, if you have retrieved too many references, you may want to limit your search to a shorter date range, or to only retrieve review articles.

 

Example search

If you are interested in finding information about the role of stress in rock deformation:

  • identify the key terms (and authors)

role
stress
rock deformation

  • think of alternative words or phrases for your key terms

function
pressure / compression / tension
erosion / corrosion

  • combine your terms using truncation and parentheses where required

(role or function) and (stress or compression or tension or pressure) and rock and (deformation or erosion or corrosion)

 

 



Plan: Your search strategy

Once you’ve decided on what information you need, and the search tool you’re going to use, then you need to think about the way in which you’re going to search. There are some basic points to keep in mind when you are planning a search strategy regardless of what kind of search tool you are using. You will find that the more successful searches you do, the better your skills will become – like all activities, searching for information improves with practice.

 

1. Identify key terms and authors

Once you have chosen your search tool(s), you need to think about keywords for your given subject. If this was your topic:

 

‘Discuss healthcare and wearable computers.’

 

You would need to break it down into separate keywords / subjects

 

  • health
  • wearability
  • computers

You may also find it useful to do some preliminary reading in textbooks and encyclopaedias which will help you identify some keywords, and perhaps also key authors.

2. Boolean searching

Use search or Boolean operators to combine your terms:

  • AND

Example

RDMS and Ingres

Items containing BOTH words will now be searched for. Using ‘and’ will usually result in fewer but more relevant hits.

  • OR

Example

emoticon or smiley

Items containing EITHER word will now be searched for

  • Use parentheses to execute part of the search separately. This is used when you use the search operator OR.

Example

RDBMS and (Ingres or Oracle)

Using brackets helps structure your search by breaking it down into sections. The following will now be searched for:

RDBMS and Ingres
RDBMS and Oracle
RDBMS and Ingres and Oracle

  • Put quotation marks around a group of words to search for a phrase

Example

computer networks

  • The term NOT’ is a stop word

Example

computer networks not wide area networks

Any items referring to wide area networks will not be retrieved.

Using truncation and wildcards

The easiest way to search for words that look similar is to use truncation, or a wildcard. The symbols will vary according to the database you are using (use the help page to find out what is the required symbol), but the principles are always the same.

By using the following symbols at the end of a word you can retrieve variant endings of a word.

$ US
*UK

Example

imag$

will retrieve references containing the words:

images, imaging, imagination

Example

progra*

will retrieve references containing the words:

program, programs, programmer, programmers, programmable, programmed, programming

  • Use a wildcard to replace a letter in the middle of a word,

Example

wom?n

will retrieve references containing the words women or woman.

Example

optimi?ation

The terms optimization (US spelling) or optimisation (UK spelling) will now be searched for

3. Field restriction

Most databases allow you to search specific fields only. For instance, if you know that Ian Lean has written a useful paper on your subject, you may want to search for Lean and limit your search to the author field. Similarly, if you have retrieved far too many papers on your chosen topics, you may want to limit your search to title only.

4. Range limits

Some databases allow you to apply limits such as language, date of publication, and publication type. Again, if you have retrieved too many references, you may want to limit your search to a shorter date range, or to only retrieve review articles.

 

Example search

If you are interested in finding information about the application of color head-up displays in jets:

  • identify the key terms (and authors)

application
color
head-up displays

 

  • think of alternative words or phrases for your key terms

use
colour
cockpit displays/ aircraft displays

  • combine your terms using truncation and parentheses where required

(use or application) and (color or colour) and (cockpit or head-up) and displays

 



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