Ever since Google introduced its single search box on an uncluttered screen, database vendors (and other search engines) have struggled to keep up. In the years since, databases have moved more and more to a Google-like interface. The problem is that these interfaces LOOK more like Google, but they don’t SEARCH like Google. Users are frequently frustrated by very poor results when they try a Google-like search in a database.
I will give some suggestions on how to improve database searches. But first, a little discussion about how people typically search in Google. One common Google technique is to just type in what you want as a natural language search: How has Facebook changed college students’ attitudes about privacy? This yields 254,000 results. Natural language searches will yield zero results in almost every database to which Milligan or any other library subscribes. Probably the most common search technique (and the one I use in Google) is the string of keywords technique: Facebook college students’ privacy. 40 million results. Yet this search in most databases will, again, yield zero or very low results.
Some of you may be thinking: Why should I even bother with databases, since Google already has so much information on this topic? The long answer warrants a separate blog post. The short answer is that many Google results would not be considered academic sources, and would not meet the criteria of most college research papers. Academic databases contain academic resources that are needed to write academic papers. While there are academic sources in Google, it is often difficult to identify them among all the other results in a typical Google search.
While database searching can be very sophisticated and complex, it doesn’t have to be. A few simple techniques can vastly improve almost all searches.
Search Tip #1 Add the word AND in between all your search concepts. AND is a Boolean operator, a special command to the computer. It tells the computer to find results with all of your search terms. Facebook AND college students AND privacy in a database will give you much better results than a natural language or phrase search. Note that I put the AND between concepts, not between each word. Since I want the concept of “college students”, I did not put the AND between college and students. You really don’t need to understand the why of it to use it, but if you are interested in knowing more, check out:
Search Tip #2 If your search results are low and you think you have good search terms and you would like to get more results, try truncation. Truncation is shortening a word to its stem, so that the computer will find all possible endings for the word. The standard symbol for truncation is an *, which works in almost all Milligan databases. If I change my search to Facebook AND college students AND priva*, the computer will now find results with both private and privacy. The second link above has an excellent tutorial on truncation.
If you would like to learn more about searching in databases or need help finding what you want in a database, talk to me, Mary Jackson, as I’m the most excited about this topic. But any member of the library staff would be happy to help you.