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Information Literacy Modules: Search Terms

Search Terms

So far in these modules, you have learned how to establish a research question based on a research need. For students, this need normally derives from an assignment. The parameters of said assignment dictate how much and what kind of information will be sought to answer the question. Exploring background information helps you to define what you are looking for, and can help to identify potential search terms to use in the finding tools available. The types of sources used to access various information and which search tools access those sources was explained. Also, the concept that research is a process was introduced. Now let’s take these concepts and begin applying them in the finding tools.

In the discussion of background information, the example of social media was used. You may have wondered, if looking for background information on social media, how would you find the types of sources indicated (handbooks, encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc.)? These types of sources are normally considered books. In Selecting Finding Tools, we learned that the library catalog is used to find books, eBooks, videos, etc. 

So with that in mind, you could search the catalog for keywords such as social media and handbook. What if there are no results? One possible place to find background information could be your textbook. Otherwise try another type of source, such as an encyclopedia or dictionary. It could be that social media is too narrow to have entire reference items produced on the topic. Then you would need to consider, what is the broader topic that encompasses social media? You may need to adjust how you are looking for background information several times, depending on the terms you begin with. Consider the following image:

This graphic shows how a topic can be viewed from broader terms to narrower terms. On the left is the broadest related term to the topic being discussed: Computer Programs. The next area are less broad terms: Web Sites, and Mobile Applications are considered terms that could be used in searching. Computer Based Software is a related term that is not applicable to the current search. The next area is labeled: Your Topic. Social Media is the basis of the topic, and relates to the next area. There are two other terms that are related, but do not move forward to the narrower description, and those are: Static Web Pages and Utility Applications. The last area is Narrow, and each listed topic relate back to your main search topic, and can be used to find more specific information. They are: Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.

In this chart you can see a possible visual representation of the topic hierarchy for social media. The grey blocks represent dead ends that are not related to the subject. This is not all inclusive on the topic and does not show all possible paths for the largest topic of Computer Programming, but it should give you an idea of how a topic may relate to other areas. Areas such as social media having links to Web sites and mobile applications (many times referred to as Apps). Those two areas may be more likely to have handbooks, guides, dictionaries, etc. published. Remember to seek alternative descriptions and synonyms for your search terms to help expand how you are searching. This is not the same as broadening your topic, but helps you to have more search terms available in looking for the same topic of information.

What if you wanted to search for social media and encyclopedia or dictionaries, or handbooks, etc.? There is a way to structure that with a keyword search. We will spend some time explaining what a keyword search is a bit later in this module, as well as the concepts of Boolean logic, limiting, and field searching. First we will consider something called controlled vocabulary.


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