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EMGT 270/272: Effective Oral/Written Technical Communication (Conefrey): Search Strategy Troubleshooting

Communication skills--both oral and written--for technical managers.

Too Much Info

1. Look at an irrelevant record from your research results. Can you figure out why the database retrieved it?  Could the program have misinterpreted the meaning of your search term(s)?  Try to use a more specific term or a short phase that excludes the meaning you don't want. Or add in a new term to make the meaning of the old one more specific.

2. Check where in the record your search terms are.  The best matches for topics are in fields such as Subject or Title.  Try using the Advanced or Expert Search option in the database to search in specific fields only.

3. Use limiters when available. Databases provide a range of limiters such as limiting by language, journal articles only, peer reviewed journal articles only, date of publication, by subject heading, etc.  These are usually selected by a check box or pull-down menu.

Too Little Info

1.  Are your search terms spelled correctly? Databases don't come with spell checkers.  One misspelling can invalidate your whole search.

2.  Be careful when using long phrases.  When you use a phrase, all the words must be in the exact order as you've typed them in.  Some databases default to putting the operator AND between the words as you type.  Each AND operator added keeps narrowing down your search results.

3.  Think of broader terms for the concept you need.  Sometimes there is little written on a specific topic, but more in a general area.

4.  Try using alternate terms or synonyms instead. 

5.  Don't forget to use truncation - usually the asterisk * symbol to indicate both singular and plural word forms.  Other word forms such as variations of spelling within words are indicated by other symbols--check under "help" for the database to see which are used.

Wrong Info

1.  Wrong database?  Check the coverage of the database you are using - read "about this database." Does it cover the kinds of materials you need?  The right subjects?  The right types of documents?  The correct dates?

2.  In the database search box use the pull-down menu "browse by subject" which lists the databases according to subject category.  

3.  BEST recommendation -  Ask a LibrarianLocated under "Contact Us" on the library's home page, or on the top quicklinks bar on any other library web page, is the "Ask a Librarian" link.  You can e-mail, phone, IM or text a librarian with a question.  There is also a 24/7 web chat service staffed by SCU, AJCU (Jesuit-founded universities) librarians, and librarians hired by the system vendor.  Since questions about search strategy are more complex, and normally require more time--these are best answered in person or by using the full screen web chat technology.