Find out how to search for information in an efficient way!
Why should you search for information?
Recognizing relevant information is a key skill in working life, based on the ability to evaluate information. Understanding the differences between general, professional, and scientific information is part of this ability. A skilled information user is able to identify different levels of information and to use information sources both diversely and purposefully.
Why should we practice information searching?
We live in the middle of an information flood. The ability to filter information is an integral part of search skills: you have to be able to tell the difference between reliable and unreliable, essential and non-essential.
When searching for information for your studies, Google is rather a poor tool for it provides you with a lot of irrelevant information. Use Google Scholar instead, especially since you can also access HAMK electronic collections with Scholar. Check out HAMK Finna’s large and multidisciplinary international e-materials search . If you need information about image databases and how to use graphical elements in your research papers you might benefit from ImagOA service.
For basic background information please have a look at these brief definitions of information and research taken from Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary.
Different levels of expertise
With thesis or other expository text, you can use varied sources: books, scientific articles, feature articles, blog postings. You can utilize publication channel types to determine the reliability of your source: for instance, a scientific journal is more reliable than a newspaper. Also check the publication for commercial, political, or other affiliations that may affect the reliability of your source.
You can also judge source reliability by checking whose voices or views get portrayed. Are they experts? There are different kinds of experts. As an example, let us look at the back problems of hockey players.
Back pain in ice hockey players (.pdf)
All above mentioned information sources can be useful, but you have to know how to use them in the right way.
Scientific expert provides you with background information that places a phenomenon in a larger scale. This is generally referred to as the current truth.
Scientific research information can be supplemented by a professional expert who can provide applied or empirical information the scientist may lack.
The story of an experience expert can be used as an example or a conversation piece, but it is only the subjective experience of one person and cannot be generalized as truth.
Be open about your sources
The theoretical basis of your thesis should be based on research. If it is not available, you have to use other sources to show your familiarity with the topic. You are expected to use scientific information and to cite them according to HAMK reference practice. Here is an example:
As many as 80 percent of the players in Finnish hockey league have reported suffering from back pain (Kiekkonen 2016, 36).
When citing other types of sources, it could be useful to mention the source type. That way you can for instance avoid citing a blog post as a scientific source. Can you tell the difference between the following examples?
According to Mailanen (2016) back pain is common among ice hockey players.
Ice-hockey player Teemu Mailanen tells in his blog posting that back pain is common among hockey players (2016).
In the first example, a simple blog post gives the appearance of a research article. The second example is open about the type of the source in question.
Using your sources correctly requires the ability to evaluate both their reliability and significance.
How do you search for information?
This chapter focuses on the planning and execution of an information search.
Start by watching these short videos:
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 or subject headings).
Too few results?
- Do not limit your search too much by using AND or NOT
- 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 the author field.
- Use database index to find suitable search terms.
What kind of information need do you have?
Acute vs chronic information need
Acute information need
e.g. When is the next flight from Helsinki to Barcelona?
Acute information need usually requires a quick answer to an exact question. In these cases Google can be the right tool, though sometimes you need to find the information in a book, a database etc. Finding one reliable source is often enough in the case of an acute information need.
Acute information process:
Chronic information need:
e.g. To develop my own professional competence in the ever changing working life, I need to follow the main publications in my field.
Chronic information need usually requires a broader and deeper information search and returning to the topic often. It requires the use of varied information channels – limiting yourself to Google use does not necessarily get you very far. Another example of a chronic information need is keeping up to date on your field. Both during studies and in working life, once acquired information needs to be updated and built upon.
Chronic information process:
Different needs, different information
During your studies, you are expected to find information for various needs. Finding a specific answer to a limited question is different from collecting a comprehensive selection of source material for a project or thesis. You also need to evaluate the nature and use of required information, i.e. whether you need general, professional, or scientific information. It is useful to recognize their characteristics.
Scientific research information = Research information is justifiable, objective and communicable. Research information aims at veracity by presenting as truth the most justifiable conception backed by research. Research information also has a viewpoint, and is based on a justifiable and openly stated research approach.
Professional information = Information for working life needs and provided by professional experts. Applied and practical by nature, e.g. professional magazine articles.
General information = Information based on everyday experience. General information is often used to solve practical problems in certain situations, and it is based on previous knowledge.
When looking for background information or for deeper understanding, books often provide the most comprehensive information. For the latest information and news, turn to scientific and professional articles.
Ronkainen, S., Pehkonen, L., Lindblom-Ylänne, S. Paavilainen, E. (2011). Tutkimuksen voimasanat. Helsinki: WSOYpro.