Information search basics
This chapter focuses on the planning and execution of an information search.
Start by watching the short video that teaches you how to find books using HAMK Finna.
Choosing the search terms
This is a critical part of your search process. Consider these questions when choosing your search terms:
- Think about the words which best describe your topic.
- Which type of information do you want: general, professional, scientific? Information sources determine the choice of search terms.
- Which other words could you use to describe your topic? What are the synonyms, broader or narrower concepts?
- Change your search terms and their combinations to see how they affect the search results.
- Do not give up even if the first search proves unsuccessful. Information retrieval is a continuing process and as it unfolds, it gives you new ideas and new search terms.
All databases and electronic interfaces follow the same basic principles and apply the same search techniques, though with slight variations.
The most common search techniques are:
- search terms
- search limits (e.g. language or time)
- truncation (e.g. entrepreneur?, wom*n)
- search phrase (e.g. "sustainable development")
- combining search terms: AND, OR, NOT.
The use of truncation varies by database. Always start your search by reminding yourself of the truncation practices of the database you use.
implement* (implement, implementation, implementing, implementable)
colo?r (color, colour)
When you are using terms which form established expressions or phrases you can utilize the so called phrase search. In most databases you can search a phrase with quotation marks, for example "business model" or "service quality".
Combining the search terms
Used to limit the results. Both words must be found on the results.
export AND grain
Used to expand the results: at least one of the terms should be found in the results. OR is particularly useful when combining synonyms into one search.
company OR business OR enterprise OR organization
Used to limit something out of the results.
recycling NOT paper
SME* AND "circular economy" AND Finland
(segment? OR target?) AND market?
(plastic OR polymer OR bioplastic) AND (recycling OR reuse)
Solutions to problems
Sometimes the results may surprise you, and not always in a good way. Here are solutions to the most common problems that may arise.
Too many results?
- Do not use truncation.
- Use AND to limit your results.
- Limit your results by e.g. language, time, or publication type.
- Limit your search to a specific field (e.g. keywords).
Too few results?
- Did you limit your search too much by using AND?
- Use broader topics or synonyms (combine with OR).
- Try truncation.
- Search as free text rather than limiting your search to keywords or title.
No results? Wrong results?
- Check your spelling!
- Does the database cover your topic?
- Did you truncate your terms too early?
- Did you use the correct search field? For instance, do not use the word diabetes in an author field.
- Use database index to find suitable search terms.