Making Kick-Ass Search Terms

As classes have started back, I've found myself more and more mentally exhausted. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I've had people knocking down the door to get instruction sessions! I just haven't felt up to writing lots of original and brilliant blog posts. 

Then I got this fabulous idea: I should just blog about what I'm teaching. 

Today's topic: Making Kick-Ass Search Terms!

Whether you are doings lots of thorough academic research or just randomly research stuff you're interested in, you could benefit from this thinking exercise. 

  1. What's your topic? Say it in as plain English as you need to. 
  2. Pick out only the most important words. If it helps to write it down, circle these precious words.
  3. Separate those precious words with "AND." Ask yourself, "If I find a resource that covers blank AND blank AND blank could that be useful to me?" If the answer is yes then we're on the right track.
  4. Next, try to think of related words or synonyms for your precious words. Wouldn't those also be relevant? Separate those words from their related ones with "OR." 
  5. Combine everything together. If you found a resource that covered all of these words, would it be just what you want? Good! 

    Ex. (video games OR games) AND (learning OR educational OR positive) 

This is helpful because you're not only thinking harder about your topic, but you're also thinking about the wording more critically. Not every resource is going to use the same words for your topic as you, but that doesn't mean it isn't relevant! 

If you look at an academic database, this separation with AND and OR is probably familiar. These words are called "Boolean Operators" and also include NOT. A good way to explain them is via venn diagram. 

AND

AND

Search for "video games" AND "education?" You'll get the overlap in the middle. AND narrows your searches. 

Search for "video games" OR "education?" You'll get EVERYTHING that has to do with both video games and education. Hello information overload!

Search for "video games" NOT "education?" You'll only get stuff back about video games that does not include education.

If this makes sense to you, you're smarter than most college freshmen. Congrats!

While sometime it's a struggle to get them to understand what I'm saying and realize it's important to their studies, that moment when they do realize it is worth the struggle.