Keyword searching is the most common type of search. When you google something, you're doing a keyword search.
If I search for "voting", but without the quotation marks, I would get several thousand results. If I want to find a phrase like "voting restrictions", I would add the quotation marks to make it a phrase search. Results from this will contain the phrase together, rather than each word in their own place in the page.
In most search engines, you can add operators to narrow your search. Academic databases have a variety of operators, but the following are the most common and likely to be used in basic searching:
AND/OR/NOT - Combining keywords using AND ensures that your search will return results that contain both words. For example, if I want to find "Presidential Campaigns" AND "Corporate Donations" the results would have to contain both of these phrases.
However, if I wanted to search for "Presidential Campaigns" AND "Corporate Donations" OR "Corporate Financing" it would ensure that "Presidential Campaigns" will be included in the search, but "Corporate Donations" and "Corporate Financing" are interchangable, as different sources might use related words to mean the same thing.
If you keep getting too many results, and the same topic keeps popping up that isn't relevant to your search, you can add the NOT statement to eliminate that search term. Searching for "Presidential Campaigns" AND "Individual Donations" can bring up a lot of results. Sometimes a page could be about corporate financing, but still mention individual donations. This would be included in your search since it's a keyword search, and is technically on the page. However, adding NOT "Corporate Donations" can eliminate this possibility.
Keyword searching is often very effective in finding the material you need. However, the fault in keyword searching is that the word can appear in the article you want without being about the subject. Most databases offer a thesaurus option that can help convert your keywords into specific subject terms that the search engine will recognize. Sometimes thesauri aren't easy to find. They can be labeled as 'subject terms' or 'subject searching' and can even be in advanced searching or buried somewhere else in the site.
Subject searching is an incredibly powerful tool. Authors and publishers read the material and decide what specific subject materials fall under. Thesauri help the rest of us match our keywords with those subjects.
For example: I want to look up the keywords "regional development". I can put it into the search as regional development, and even put it in quotation marks so it finds only results using that phrase. However, if I use the thesaurus, I'll find that the official subject used by multiple databases is "COMMUNITY development; RURAL development". This search will give me results that not only contain these words, but will find an article that the author/publisher labeled as being about that subject.
Another alternative to using a database thesauri is to search the Library of Congress' subject headings. It's nearly the same as a database thesaurus, but is maintained by the Library of Congress. The link for this resource is: http://id.loc.gov/authorities/subjects.html
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