Researching Tips

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Basic Researching Tips

(Information copied and/or modified from http://websearch.about.com/od/2/g/boolean.htm and http://www.usg.galileo/skills)

Searching Using Boolean Operators

Boolean searches allow you to combine words and phrases using the words AND, OR, NOT and NEAR (otherwise known as Boolean operators) to limit, widen, or define your search. Most Internet search engines and Web directories default to these Boolean search parameters anyway, but a good Web searcher should know how to use basic Boolean operators.

How do I do a Boolean Search?

You have two choices: you can use the standard Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT, or NEAR, or you can use their math equivalents. It depends on you, the searcher, on which method you're more comfortable with. For example:

Boolean Search Operators

The Boolean search operator 
AND is equal to the "+" symbol.

The Boolean search operator NOT is equal to the "-" symbol.

The Boolean search operator OR is the default setting of any search engine; meaning, all search engines will return all the words you type in, automatically.

The Boolean search operator NEAR is equal to putting a search query in quotes, i.e., "sponge bob squarepants". You're essentially telling the search engine that you want all of these words, in this specific order, or this specific phrase.

Examples: 

Using AND narrows (less) a search by combining terms; it will retrieve documents that use both the search terms you specify, as in this example:

                                                Portland AND Oregon

Using OR broadens (more) a search to include results that contain either of the words:

  liberal OR democrat

Using NOT will narrow (less) a search by excluding certain search terms:

Oregon NOT travel

Domain suffixes

Sites on the Web are grouped by their URLs according to the type of organization providing the information on the site. The domain suffix provides you with a clue about the purpose or audience of a Web site.

Here follows a list of the most common domain suffixes and the types of organizations that would use them.

.com
Commercial site. While this information might not necessarily be false, you might be getting only part of the picture. Remember, there's a monetary incentive behind every commercial site, whether it is for good public relations or to sell you a product.

.edu
Educational institution. Sites using this domain name are schools ranging from kindergarten to higher education. If it is from a department or research center at an educational institution, it can generally be taken as credible. However, students' personal Web sites may not be credible.

.gov
Government. If you come across a site with this domain, then you're viewing a federal government site. All branches of the United States federal government use this domain. The information is considered to be from a credible source.

.org
Traditionally a non-profit organization. Generally, the information in these types of sites is credible and unbiased, but there are examples of organizations that strongly advocate specific points of view over others.  Scrutinize carefully.

.mil
Military. This domain suffix is used by the various branches of the Armed Forces of the United States.

.net
Network. You might find any kind of site under this domain suffix. It acts as a catch-all for sites that don't fit into any of the preceding domain suffixes. Information from these sites should be given careful scrutiny.

Authority

Does the site you're evaluating give credit to an author? If no responsible author is listed, is there an indication of any sponsorship? When trying to determine reliability of information, you want to have some idea of what the author's credentials are. Are they experts on the topic? Remember, anyone can publish on the Web. They don't have to know what they're talking about.

You also want to check and see if there's a list of sources given for the information on a site, like a bibliography that you would have to provide for a paper you're writing.

Currency

Information that is outdated may be incorrect or incomplete. A well maintained Web site will generally tell you at the bottom of the initial screen when it was last updated and maybe even when it was originally created and made available on the Web.

Links

An informational Web site in which all the hyperlinks are broken might not be a very reliable resource. When there are many broken links on a Web site, it might be an indication that the site isn't maintained on a regular basis.

URL

The site address can give you clues as to ultimate sponsorship of a site. If you can't determine who wrote the site or who or what is sponsoring the site, try truncating the URL to its root address. This will tell you where the site is being hosted.

Example - http://www.mikeschoice.com/reports/rda.htm.

If you truncate the URL to its root address http://www.mikeschoice.com, you will discover that this is a site selling something. Given the obvious bias, this is probably not the best source.

Another clue to what type of site you're looking at is whether there is a ~ (tilde) symbol in the URL. This symbol usually indicates that the site is a personal Web page and the information should be given careful scrutiny.

Comparison

Always compare the information that you find on a Web site with other information sources. How does the information found in the various formats compare?

General Search Tips
(Infomation obtained and copied from http://search.grolier.com/gme3/advanced_search.jsp)

1. Use either singular or plural words.
The search engine has a powerful stemming function that will automatically look for variant forms of the word, the plural versions of singular words, and vice versa.

2. Not sure of the spelling?
Spell as much as accurately as possible, then use the wildcard symbols. An asterisk (*) can be used to represent one or more letters: thus "dach*" will return all the articles in which the words "dachshund," "Dachau," and so on appear. If you are unsure of only one letter, use a question mark (?) to represent that single letter; thus Anders?n to find both Anderson and Andersen. And if you are uncertain whether the spelling would include a letter or not, use a dollar sign ($): thus colo$r will yield color and colour.

3. Getting too many results?
The default search mechanism searches the full text of the encyclopedia articles and media captions. Restricting the search to article and media titles will greatly reduce the number of returns. This can be done by changing the setting below the Search window at the top of each page. Or it can be done within the Advanced Search framework.

4. Still too many results?  (SEE BELOW FOR MORE DETAILED PRACTICE WITH USING BOOLEAN OPERATORS)
Use the Boolean operators (AND/OR/NOT) in the Advanced Search to further narrow your search. Using AND to link words will return all articles and captions (or article and media titles) in which both words appear. OR will yield all articles and captions (or titles) in which one or the other word(s) appears. And NOT will yield all articles and captions (or titles) in which the first word appears except those in which the second or third also appears; for example, "Columbus" NOT "Christopher" will return all articles and captions (or titles) in which the word "Columbus" appears except those also containing the word "Christopher."

5. Want to find the exact match of a word or words?
Use single quote [ ' ] marks. Example: 'Saint Thomas' will return Aquinas, Saint Thomas but NOT Thomas, Saint (if you are searching titles only), since the order of the words is different.

Finding Materials in the Library

Using the Library of Congress (LC) Classification System:

Many universities and academic/research libraries use the LC system to classify and organize library materials.  The website below helps explain the LC system in simple terms.

Using the Dewey Decimal Classification System (DDC):

Our KMS library – and most K-12 libraries – uses the DDC system to classify and organize library materials.  To learn more, look for the Dewey Decimal link under “Students”.

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