UNIV 110 IS - Independent Study

Lesson 3 - Ways of Searching for Information






We live in the Google age.  While the WWW has provided us with more accessible information than we have had ever before in the history of the world, there are challenges:

  • The information available through an Internet search engine search varies greatly in quality.
  • The simple box into which we throw keywords has led us to believe that search is easy.  It is not.

Think about this: How well can you communicate with a machine?  You are a person, with a highly complex brain, complicated emotions, and a personal history full of assumptions, motivations and even biases.  To communicate with a machine that does not think or feel is a very challenging prospect.  It may seem easy because a search box is simple, but your list of results, full of things you didn't ask for, says that search is not easy at all.

These days, we have artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT and Copilot that seem to be able to have a conversation with us and provide us with meaningful information. But these tools can also create false information or even be persuaded to accept a lie as the truth. At this point, they are unable to respond to our questions reliably.

Your textbook (Research Strategies) devotes three chapters to searching (4-6).  Read those chapters carefully.  What follows is a summary to some of the most basic things you need to understand, along with links to other resources that can help in your understanding.

Guide to Library OneSearch (open to full screen)



Searching with keywords is probably second nature to you.  Every time you Google something, you are doing a keyword search.  But keyword searching is not as simple as it looks (as you can see every time your Google search turns up a lot of results that are not really what you were looking for).  There are some basic ways that keyword searching is done.  These can be summed up with three ways of linking keywords together (often described as "Boolean" searching):

     1. AND - This term between two keywords means that you want both words to appear in your search results.  In many search engines and academic databases, AND is assumed to be there even if you don't actually type in the word.  If you want your two keywords to appear together, as in a phrase, many search engines ask you to put quotation marks around them - "apple trees" - though some academic databases use parentheses instead (apple trees).  See this example of how AND intersects the ideas of homeless youth and education to consider the education of homeless youth:


  2. OR - This term between keywords means that you don't mind which of the words appears in your results.  One of the words will do.  This is often used with synonyms or related words, and it is used to avoid having to do multiple searches with each keyword in turn.  For example, college OR university, car OR automobile.

    3. NOT - This term is used to screen out results that you don't want to see, for example (Car OR Automobile) NOT Truck.

Task One

Study http://williambadke.com/boolean.htm - Basics of Boolean searching - and be sure you understand how keyword Boolean searching works.

It is important with keyword searching that you focus on terminology that arises out of your research question.  Searchers have a tendency to use keywords that are either broader or narrower than the question they are asking in their research. So use your research question important words as search terms.

Note as well, that starting with simple searches is better than loading your search box with terminology. Why? Because every search word you include in an AND search cuts the number of results you will find. AND is a narrowing function so it both focuses your topic and reduces the number of results. So start simply.

Task Two

Go through the Google Slides presentation Pulling Keywords from Research questions - to understand how best to use research question terminology to decide on what keywords to use in searches.



Many students believe that keyword searching is the only option when seeking information electronically. That may be true for search engines like Google, but academic databases such as Library OneSearch and journal search tools have developed sophisticated methods to find information more effectively than can be done with only keyword searches.

Academic databases can use better methods because they are built around a system of analytical tags called "Metadata."  Your textbook explains metadata, but the following tasks will introduce you to both metadata in general and one particular type of metadata - the subject heading.

Task Three

Study http://williambadke.com/metadata.htm - "Metadata, an explanation" - and be sure you understand how metadata works.  It is the basis for identifying crucial information like a title or an author or a publisher.

Because metadata is created as a descriptive record of a book or journal article, it is possible to add information to the description that can help a searcher find more resources like the one already found.  One type of information is the subject heading, a descriptor that standardizes topic information.  For example, if we had the following options: climate change, global climate change, global warming, and so on, it would be good if we had one term that found everything on the concept.  We could select one standard term, for example, climate change, and declare that to be what we will call this idea.  Then we could put it into the metadata of the descriptive record for any book or article that was about the topic regardless of what terminology was found in its title.

For example, a book like Crazy Weather in Modern Times, could get a "Climate Change" subject tag in its metadata and be found in a Climate Change subject search even though nothing in its title says "climate change." The tag refers to what the book is about, not what title words it has.

The subject heading is a difficult concept for most students, because we are so used to keywords.  Subject headings are not keywords.  They are standardized terms that never change, because they are intended to bring together everything on a topic in the database, regardless of what title words may be used in a book or journal article. Subject headings tell you what the book or article is actually about regardless of the words in its title.

Task Four

View the Prezi - An Introduction to Subject Headings - and be sure you understand subject headings.  

The textbook chapter on Metadata can help as well.  Remember that the idea of the subject heading is challenging.  Use all your brain cells to grasp what it is and what it does.


The main search box on the library home page (http://www.twu.ca/library/) allows you to do a number of different searches from one box.  You can search all our resources at once (books, articles, media, and so on) or you can do separate searches for books and for articles.  For this lesson, you will be working with the books search:

 Note that books tend to be broad in scope, so you may discover that there are few of them that deal specifically with your particular topic.  Rather, you will find your topic discussed within a chapter or section of a book.  Thus you may find yourself searching for books that cover more than your narrow research question (for example, if your topic is "delegation of authority," you may find it in a book on business management).

Task Five

Go through the OneSearch Guide, especially Search Options and the two Working with Results tabs (http://libguides.twu.ca/LibraryOneSearch/) as well as the "home" page for this course, where you will find a video on OneSearch. Be sure you have a clear idea of how OneSearch works. Users tend to assume that this is a simple tool, but it actually has a lot of complexities to it that you need to understand in order to optimize your search results.

Essentially, in book searching, you start with search words that relate to your research question, but, on the results page, unless you have fewer than 30 results, you will need to use limiters to get the number down and make your results more relevant.  Notice especially, the Limit by Subject feature in the column to the left of the results:

Have a look at this presentation which shows a couple of ways of searching in OneSearch using subject headings: 

Subject headings focus on what a book is actually about rather than just on words in a title.  Thus they can get you more focused on your topic while at the same time lowering the number of results.


Getting citations formatted properly can be a challenge.  You can use the Cite feature in OneSearch, to get formatted citations to copy and paste into a document. (A citation is a description of a book or article.  In academic work, citations have to be formatted according to set standards.  The three most popular of these standards are APA, MLA, and Chicago/Turabian.  Each is different. )

This graphic will explain how to format citations in OneSearch and many other of our EBSCO databases:

This is what the citation should look like for each of three common formats:

Frick, D. M. (2004). Robert K. Greenleaf: A life of servant leadership. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Frick, Don M. Robert K. Greenleaf: A Life of Servant LeadershipBerrett-Koehler Publishers, 2004. 

Frick, Don M. Robert K. Greenleaf: A Life of Servant Leadership. San Francisco, Calif: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2004. [Note that this format calls for a city name before the publisher.  The OneSearch citation tools sometimes omits cities, so you would have to add a city to the citation; APA and MLA do not require city name]

When you are searching in OneSearch, you can create citations according to the format of your choice.  The OneSearch Guide at https://libguides.twu.ca/LibraryOneSearch/SavingCiting#s-lg-box-wrapper-18304413 shows you how to do this for individual citations or citations in a batch.

Some other options for creating citations:

    1. Go to WorldCat as means to format book citations: http://www.worldcat.org/Look up a book, click on the book title, and then use the quotation mark symbol to get a formatted citation:

    2. Format your citation using a citation generator program.  The best of these is Citation Machine

    3. If you are feeling adventurous, or you plan to do a lot of academic work, you can try out EndNote, a bibliographic manager.  There is a full explanation of it at http://libguides.twu.ca/EndNote/.  Book citations from OneSearch download easily into EndNote.

In the box below ("Lots of Links") are links to online guides for APA, MLA and Chicago/Turabian.  You may find these guides helpful to troubleshoot your citations.