Specialist resources will come in all shapes and sizes, but there are some basic steps that are common.
There are some techniques that you can use to try to maximise the number of relevant search results. It's a problem that there's no standard - all resources and their vendors have their own way of doing things. Sometimes they do things the same way, sometimes they do them differently, so you should always look at the resource pages on this site and the resources' own help pages before you start,
Sometimes your search terms might be represented as phrases rather than individual words. If you search for electrical standards, you'll get back results than contain both 'electrical' and 'standards' anywhere in the document. if you search for the phrase "electrical standards", you will get back only results that contain the phrase "electrical standards".
Truncation is a searching technique that lets you search for a word that could have different endings. It uses a symbol to replace a word ending, and so lets you search for multiple endings of that word. For example, using electri* as your search term and * as the truncation symbol would return results containing electrician, electrical, electric and electricity. The asterisk * is the most common truncation symbol, but other symbols may be used.
Remember not to truncate prematurely: if you search for soc*, you retrieve results for soccer, sociology, society and socks!
There are several wildcard symbols that can be used in different resources. Wildcards can substitute for letters or words. For example:
- can be used between words to match any single word. For example, a search for midsummer * dream will match the phrases midsummer night’s dream and midsummer day’s dream.
- can be used when an alternate spelling might contain an extra character. For example, type colo#r to find all records containing color or colour. Type p#ediatric to find all records with pediatric or paediatric.
- replace a single character in a search term. For example, type ne?t to find all records containing neat, nest or next.
Wildcards are not allowed as the first character in a search term.
Most resources will allow you to filter or refine your search results. A search filter limits your search by adding extra criteria, e.g. by year(s) of publication, subject/discipline, language and content type. Suppose there was a site that contained the details of all inter-county GAA players. You search for "Kelly" and get lots of results. You might have the option to filter by County, Sport, Decade, Position... to reduce the number of results and make them more relevant.
Multiple filters can be applied to take a large number of search results and refine them into a narrower selection, giving you more control over what you see and help you retrieve the most relevant search results based on the criteria you have selected. For instance, supposed you searched for "widgets". There might be a filter for colour of widget, size of widget, country of origin of widget...
Here's an example from a resource named "SpringerLink" which holds scholarly journals and academic books:
You could click on:
- Preview only - to see material that you can't access (maybe it's available elsewhere though)
- Content type - to narrow your search to a specific kind of content type
- Discipline - to search in a particular field of study
- Sub-discipline - to search within a particular specialist area of a field of study
- Language - to search for material in a specific language
Different resources will use different attributes to filter by. Some allow multiple filters to be used at once, others you have to filter one attribute at a time. Filtering/refining is very powerful and very useful for limiting search results.
- Search for phrases using quotation marks
- You can use the truncation symbol to search for a word with multiple endings
- You can use the wildcard symbol to search for variations of a word or phrase
- Filtering/Refining reduces the number of search results by excluding results that don't match the type of result that you want.