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Basic search techniques

Use different search techniques to perform better searches in the library search tool and other databases. On this page you will find tips on when to use the library search tool and when to use a specific database. Here you will also find answers to frequently asked questions about the library search tool.

Search efficiently using the search tool and databases

On this page you will find tips on basic search techniques to improve your searches. We use the library search tool as an example but most of the techniques can be used when you search for information in databases as well.

Should I use the library search tool or a database?

With the library search tool, you search in many databases that cover all subject areas. Use the search tool when you

  • want to get an overview or are at the beginning of your search process
  • have an interdisciplinary subject
  • cannot find a more specific database that covers your subject area
  • are looking for a specific book, article, journal or dissertation
  • want to know if a specific item is available through the library and how it is accessed.

Choose a database when you want to perform more exhaustive, systematic searches on a subject. Databases are also more appropriate if you are looking for recently published articles.

Which language should I use?

In most areas research is published in English, which means that you will often find more information if you use English search terms than if you search in Swedish.

Try for yourself by searching in the library search tool and notice the difference if you search for the Swedish term "frukostvanor" compared to the English term "breakfast habits".

Get fewer hits by narrowing your search

Sometimes you get too many results when you search for information. To limit your result and get fewer hits, you can use these techniques.

Filter your result

To narrow your search, you can use various filters. For example, in the library search tool you can filter by

  • language
  • year of publication
  • articles
  • peer reviewed
  • books held in the library
  • textbooks
  • subject headings (Swedish subjects and Medical Subject Headings – MeSH).

Reduce the number of hits with AND and NOT (Boolean operators)

AND

If you search for headache AND exercise, you will get results where both words appear. In the library search tool, you do not need to type the AND operator between your search terms; the system automatically does this for you. However, writing AND between search terms might give you a clearer idea of your search string. The more search terms you combine with AND, the more limited your search will be.

NOT

If you want to exclude results for a particular word, you can use the NOT operator. If you search for headache NOT migraine, you will get results on headache but remove all hits where the word migraine appears. Keep in mind that you may also lose interesting results when you use NOT. For example, many authors describe in their abstract what they did not include in their study.

Why are they called Boolean operators?

The operators are search commands that can be used in most databases. The operators commonly used in information searching are named after the mathematician George Boole. You use Boolean operators to specify how you want to combine your search terms. Read more about the OR operator under the heading "Search broader with OR".

Search on phrases with quotation marks

You can search for an exact phrase by enclosing it in quotation marks. You can use this technique to search for terms such as "sustainable development" or "election system". When you put the words in quotation marks, they must be found next to each other, and you will get fewer but more specific results.

Search by using subject headings

A good way to narrow your search is to use subject headings. In most search tools and databases, the items are tagged with specific subject headings that describe what they deal with.

A list of subject headings with a predefined, controlled vocabulary is called a thesaurus. The thesaurus is often searchable in the database where it is used. Some databases have their own thesaurus with carefully selected words. In the library search tool you can filter on Svenska ämnesord (Swedish subject headings) and Medical Subject Headings (MeSH).

Svenska ämnesord is used by most Swedish college and university libraries and is a general list of subject headings covering all subject areas.

MeSH is a list of subject headings in medicine from the National Library of Medicine (USA), which is used in for example Pubmed.

Svensk MeSH provides a Swedish translation of the subject headings in MeSH. The Karolinska Institutet University Library is responsible for the translation.

Get more results by expanding your search

Sometimes you get too few results when you search for information. To extend your search, you can use these techniques.

Search broader with OR (Boolean operator)

If you get too few hits and want to broaden your search, you can use the OR operator. OR is useful when searching using synonyms, as you can search for several similar terms at the same time.

For example, when you search doctor OR physician, you will get results where at least one of the words doctor and physician is present. A search for woman OR women OR female will return hits where one, two or all three of these words appear.

Why are they called Boolean operators?

The operators are search commands that can be used in most databases. The operators commonly used in information searching are named after the mathematician George Boole. You use Boolean operators to specify how you want to combine your search terms. Read more about the AND and NOT operators under the heading "Reduce the number of hits with AND and NOT".

Use an asterisk (*) to include endings and plurals of words

In the library search tool, you can use an asterisk (*) to widen your search. This is called truncation. You can use this technique to search for

  • plural form
  • different endings of a word
  • compound expressions.

If you search for product*, you will also get results for words such as products, productivity, product development and product management. A search for female* will return hits for both female and females.

Please note that truncation may disable other features in some databases. An example is the database Pubmed where truncation causes you to lose the automatic search function for subject headings.

Combine multiple search terms using parentheses

If you want to combine several different search terms and their synonyms in your search, you can create a search string using parentheses. Type OR between the words that are synonymous and make a parenthesis around each such group of synonyms. In this way you can control which parts must be included in the results.

If you search for headache AND (exercise OR "physical fitness" OR sports) you will get hits where the word headache and at least one of the words in the parenthesis occur.

More examples of search strings with parentheses

("skin care" OR "face lotion" OR cosmetics) AND "aloe vera" AND usage AND (man OR men) AND Sweden

(UFO OR "unidentified flying object" OR alien) AND ("United States air force" OR "naval air force") AND (recording OR sighting)

(women OR female*) AND ("United Kingdom" OR UK OR "Great Britain") AND ("house of commons" OR parliament) AND representation

Films about search techniques

Finding scientific material

About different types of publications and how to find scientific material for connecting previous research to your work.

Do you get too few search hits when you are searching?

Expand your search with different search techniques.

Do you get too many search hits when you are searching?

Narrow your search with different search techniques.

Frequently asked questions about the library search tool

What will I find in the library search tool?

In the library search tool you will find information about books held by the library, articles from databases and specific journals and databases. The search tool brings together material that you would otherwise have to search for in several different sources. This means that a search could yield a very large number of hits.

In the search tool you will find information on

  • printed and digital materials owned or subscribed to by the library (such as books, articles, journals, and databases)
  • material freely available online (open access)
  • material that the library does not have direct access to, but which can usually be borrowed from another library or purchased.

Can I see my loans and requests in the library search tool?

When logged in to the library search tool, go to "My account" to view your loans and requests. You can also renew your loans or cancel requests that you are no longer interested in.

Read more about loans and requests:

Borrowing from the library

How does the library search tool relate to databases?

By logging in to the library search tool with your Umu-id, you can access the databases to which the library subscribes.

When you have searched a database and found an article you want to read, many databases have a link back to the library in the form of a button that says View it. Clicking on it will take you to the library search tool and tell you if the material is available through the library. For printed material, you will get the location in the library. For digital material, you will be given a link to the full text on the journal’s website.

If you do not have a Umu-id, you must visit the library to access digital material.

 

Learn more

Questions about information searching?

Do you feel lost among databases and scholarly publications? Visit our drop-in sessions or make an appointment for a tutorial and we will help you. You can also submit short questions via chat or the contact form or ask the staff at the information desk.