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Getting started at the Aix Marseille University libraries

New to the Library and need to know more? This is the perfect starting point for you to find out all about the Aix Marseille University libraries.

Planning your search strategy

Before you start searching for information, take time to plan your search strategy. This is a crucial stage of the research process as:

  •  It will save you time
  •  Your searching will be more structured
  •  Your search results will be more relevant

 When you start out, you may feel overwhelmed by the breadth of information available. 

However, by planning your searches in advance and applying effective search techniques,  you will find the most relevant content for your needs. 

Planning your search strategy

Before you start researching a topic, first ask yourself:  "What type of information sources / research resources do I need?"  

Once you are clear about the information you need you can move on and ask:  Where can I look to find these resources?"  

Depending on research topic you may need to use a wide variety of different information sources and databases.

Research material can be drawn from from a wide range of different research resources. As well as using traditional sources such as books and journal articles, you may want to use news items, government reports, statistical or audiovisual material.

Some materials such as scholarly books and journals go through a rigorous 'peer review' process where they are analysed by experts in the field for reliability and quality. However, it can be more difficult to establish the provenance of other sources of information - for example anyone can create and disseminate information via the web. 

Before you start searching, spend some time defining your research topic. Ask yourself, what is it that you want to find out? What search terms or keywords will find this information?

Think carefully about suitable keywords and synonyms (alternative words that have a similar meaning) that will enable you to find manageable amounts of relevant material - not so many results that they are unmanageable and cause information overload, or so few that you retrieve insufficient information for you needs.

Use whatever technique works best for you - e.g. brainstorming, words lists or mind maps etc. can help you think around your topic and identify all possible search concepts and terms. 

  • Use AND to narrow your search.

    Using AND between your search terms narrows your search as it  instructs the database that all your search terms must appear (in any order).

    For example: semiotics AND drama
                          - 
    will only return results where both words are present

    Because all search terms must be present, using AND makes the search more focused. 

    In some (but not all) databases and search engines the AND is implied so if you enter multiple words the database will search for results which contain all/both words.

  • Use OR to broaden your search.

    Using OR between search terms broadens your results as any or all of your search terms can be present.

    For example: religion OR belief 
                          - will return results where either one or both of these words are present

    It is extremely useful for finding synonyms or related concepts.

    Using OR  enables you to carry out a number of similar searches in one go, saving you time.

  • Use NOT to narrow your search.

Using NOT narrows your search as it instructs the database to ignore results that contain particular words.

For example: social media NOT twitter
                     
- will return results that include social media but do not  include twitter

NOT  tends to be used less than the And and OR operators. 

Use it with care as you may exclude useful articles which cover a range of topics of relevance to you.

 

  • Truncation is a technique that broadens your search to include various word endings and spellings.

To use truncation, enter the root of a word and put the truncation symbol at the end.

The database will return results that include any ending of that root word.

The asterisk * symbol is most commonly used for truncation. However, check out the help screens as  !, ?, or # may also be used.

For example:

entrepreneur* will find entrepreneurs, entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial etc.

child* will find child, childrenchildlikechildhood etc.

Use it with care to avoid finding too many alternatives.

 

  • Phrase searching is the most limiting technique as it is used to specify that your terms must appear next to each other, and in the order you specify.

Phrase searching is commonly achieved by surrounding your phrase with quotation marks.

Always check the Database Help screens, as some databases may use different symbols.

Phrase searching examples:

"World Trade Organization"

"influencer marketing"

The ability to evaluate the academic quality of the information you find is a core aspect of scholarly research. 

This is particularly important when searching online and using tools like Google. While textbooks and academic journals will likely have gone through a rigorous review and editing process, there are no such guarantees for much of the information you can find online.

The CRAAP test provides simple criteria for judging the academic quality of information. By asking some questions of the sources you encounter, you can successfully boost the quality of information you use in your work.

The five main CRAAP test criteria are:

  • Currency
  • Relevancy
  • Accuracy
  • Authority
  • Purpose

In an age of misinformation and fake-news, the ability to  evaluate the quality of the information we find has never been more important. 

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