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Syracuse University Libraries

WRT 105: Research Starting Points Guide [Instructor, Gabriella Wilson - Fall 2021]

Search Terminology

There are basic search strategies that can be used when employing various text based search queries when locating information:

  • Keyword search: Quick way to retrieve a lot of results. Results will include every single record that contains your search term in any of the record fields searched. 
  • Subject search: In SUMMON, this is called the Subject Terms search.  Looks for your search terms in the subject heading category. Subject headings are not determined through natural language but are chosen from predetermined lists of acceptable subject headings. Tends to bring back results ABOUT the terminology you have entered, as opposed to sources merely containing those words. 
  • Boolean logic: Frequently the basis behind an "advanced search" feature in a search tool. Once you have brainstormed your key concepts, you are ready to create a Boolean search. Boolean logic enables you to state relationships between the search terms using the following "operators":
    • And

      • Only records with BOTH search terms will be retrieved

      • The AND operator is the most commonly used operator

    • Or

      • Used to search synonymous terms or related concepts

      • This search will retrieve records where EITHER of the search terms is present, resulting in a larger number of hits

    • Not

      • Used to exclude a term or concept from your search

      • The NOT operator is the least-used operator 

Different search tools (e.g., catalogs, databases, web) have different searching rules and features. Consider reading directions and help screens before using a tool that is new to you, or view instructional videos or screencasts when available.  Some additional types of databases (especially those emphasizing statistical data) may at times favor arriving at results through building of reports or cross-tabulations.  And yet other categories of database sometimes help one arrive at relevant results through the use of selecting preferences from a series of menu options or other related filters.  Most of the time, do not settle only for the initial list of results you immediately retrieve from any search query.  Instead, make full use of options to filter and/or sort those results to align them as closely as you can with the subject matter desired within that source material, or the content types you prefer (newspapers vs books vs book chapters vs images vs video vs government reports vs scholarly journal articles vs magazine articles vs statistical data, etc) or the time period covered that you are seeking.