Searching for information
Learn how to analyse a topic and develop a search strategy to find relevant information, identify the main resources used in academic study and use search techniques to effectively find the information you need.
This is the assignment topic that we will be using as an example:
Write a 1500 word essay on:
What impact has New Zealand’s nuclear free policy had on its foreign relations?
Information can be found in a variety of sources.
- Audiovisual material (CD ROMs, DVDs)
- Web pages
Different sources contain different types of information.
Types of information
Information contained within a book may have taken years to compile. The book must then be accepted for publication, before printing and sale to bookshops and libraries. As a result, information in books tends to be less current than information found in other sources, such as journal and newspaper articles.
Some, if not all, of the book’s contents (or chapters) may be relevant to your research, providing a good, general background to your topic.
Books and book chapters from your readings:
• Statistics New Zealand. (2004). A brief history of New Zealand, In The New Zealand official yearbook (104th ed., pp.13-22). Wellington, NZ: Government Printer.
• Consedine, R. (2001). Shattering the myths, In Healing our history: The challenge of the Treaty of Waitangi (pp.76-99). Auckland, NZ: Penguin.
• Walker, R. (1990). Nga tikanga Maori, In Ka whawhai tonu matou: Struggle without end (pp.63-77). Auckland, NZ: Penguin.
Academic journal articles contain original research, written by subject experts, and these have been ‘peer-reviewed’ i.e. reviewed by other experts, before publication. An article from an academic journal such as Social Work Review, will also include an abstract and a list of references or other readings. The target audience for this information includes subject specialists, academics and scholars.
Academic journal articles from your readings:
• Culpitt, I. (1994). Bicultural fragments: A pakeha perspective. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, 2, 48-62.
• Te Momo, F. (2004). A Maori third way: What does it mean in New Zealand today? Social Work Review, 16(2), 5-10.
Articles in popular magazines, such as More and Sports Illustrated are primarily written to entertain, rather than educate and inform. A typical magazine article will relate to contemporary events, and be written by someone with general, rather than expert knowledge of the subject. Magazine articles are generally easy to read and accompanied by glossy photos and advertising.
Popular magazine article from your readings:
• Wilson, T. (1995). Maori & pakeha: What you need to know. More, 145, 42-46.
Newspaper articles are written by journalists and primarily aim to inform the public about current news and events. They are typically short in length and ‘currency’ is very important. Articles in newspapers include news reports, opinions and reviews, and local interest stories. Newspapers are generally produced daily, such as The Otago Daily Times or weekly, such as The Sunday Star Times.
Newspaper article from your readings:
• Boyd, S. (2004, June 5). The Treaty of what? The Dominion Post, p.5.
Government bodies, committees or project teams produce government reports. Generally, the group considers some specific issue, such as the ‘wellbeing of children in New Zealand’ and reports findings and makes recommendations. Information in these documents comes from a variety of informed sources, including subject professionals, academics and other interested parties.
Government report from your readings:
• New Zealand Ministerial Advisory Committee on a Maori Perspective for the Department of Social Welfare (1986). Appendix, In: Puao-Te-Ata-Tu = Day break: The report of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on a Maori Perspective for the Department of Social Welfare (Appendix). Wellington: The Committee.
Primary sources of information include anything that is original such as:
• original research
• reports of an event recorded by someone who was there
• personal memoirs, diaries and autobiographies
Primary source from your readings:
• New Zealand. Ministerial Advisory Committee on a Maori Perspective for the Department of Social Welfare (1986) Appendix, In: Puao-Te-Ata-Tu = Day break: The report of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on a Maori Perspective for the Department of Social Welfare. Wellington: The Committee, pp.5-27.
Secondary information sources interpret, analyse or describe primary sources and events – they are at least ‘one step away’ from the actual event. Many books and articles contain secondary information, including text books and scholarly reviews.
Secondary source from your readings:
• Statistics New Zealand. (2004). A brief history of New Zealand, In: The New Zealand official year-book (104 ed., pp. 13-22). Wellington, NZ: Government Printer.
• Orange, C. (1988). The Treaty of Waitangi: A historical overview. Public Sector, 11(4), 2-6.
The first step to finding information is to develop a search strategy.
A search strategy determines what, how and where you are going to search for information.
Developing a search strategy involves:
- Choosing the best search terms for your topic
- Using appropriate search techniques
- Identifying the best search tools to use
Search terms are the keywords and phrases that you use to search for information. They consist of the words which describe the main ideas of your research topic.
Your initial search terms can found in your research topic. This initial list is then developed.
Identify the initial search terms from the topic sentence: What impact has New Zealand’s nuclear free policy had on its foreign relations?Activity
Developing your list of search terms
Add other words that also describe the research topic to your list of search terms, including:
- Synonyms (e.g. anti-nuclear)
- Abbreviations (e.g. NZ)
- Related words (e.g. Greenpeace)
List these other words under the original search terms that they relate to. Make an additional list of any other ‘useful terms’ that could be relevant.
Developing search terms activity
Identify the synonyms, abbreviations, and related words to the original search terms extracted from the topic sentence.Activity
Remember computers don’t think in words or the meanings of words, they just search for sequences of characters. If you misspell a word it will look for the misspelled version of the word.
Use academic or professional terms when researching. For example: 'child development' rather than 'growing up'.
Avoid phrases that are part of your query but not likely to be actually written in the resource. Such phrases would include “documentation on”, “pages about” or “discussion on”.
Search techniques are ways of using your search terms.
Using search techniques appropriately will enable you to successfully find information in a variety of search tools e.g. library catalogues, databases and the web.
Basic search techniques include:
Truncation and Wildcard searches
Boolean searching (using AND, OR, NOT)
Phrase searching is a technique that requires two or more search terms to appear in the exact order that you entered them e.g. “nuclear free policy".
Phrase searching can reduce the number of results you find. It can also increase the relevancy of your results.
How to phrase search
Place quotation marks around the search term e.g. “nuclear free”. If the search tool you are using does not allow you to use quotation marks, there will usually be a search option 'as a phrase' that you can select.
These are some relevant search phrases related to the topic:
|David Lange||Labour government|
|Rainbow Warrior||ANZUS treaty|
|Nuclear testing||Free trade
Use your search terms with different search techniques.
Truncation and Wildcard searches
Truncation and Wildcard searches are techniques that use a symbol to represent possible additions to a search word.
Truncation can increase the number of results found, by finding variations of a search term. Some results you find may not be relevant to your topic. There is no standard symbol; a range of symbols can be used. Common truncation symbols include * ?
If you are unsure which symbol to use, check the ‘Help’ menu of the tool you are searching.
How to truncate a search term
To truncate a search term:
Remove the end letters of a term
Replace with the truncation symbol (e.g. legislation = legislat?)
A wildcard search uses a question mark ? to ask the computer to look for a sequence of characters and replace the wildcard with any one character.
Many words in New Zealand have a different spelling from the same words in the United States of America. Some of these words include encyclopaedia (encyclopedia), organise (organize) and neighbour (neighbor). For those words where there is only one letter difference, you can use a wildcard, inside the word.
For those words which Americans spell with a z and New Zealanders spell with an s, a question mark replacing the letter will bring up results using both spelling variations. For example, put organi?ation into the search box and the computer will return all of the records which contain this word using either spelling variation.
This is useful, as well, when words have unusual plurals such as woman and women. By putting wom?n into the search box, both words will be found by the computer.
Boolean searching is a technique that connects search terms using AND, OR, NOT.
Your search results will include both terms e.g. “New Zealand” AND “nuclear free”
Your search results will contain at least one of the terms e.g. “nuclear free”OR “anti-nuclear"
Note: OR will increase the number of possible results but they may not all be relevant.
Your search results will exclude a term after NOT e.g. “nuclear power” NOT“nuclear weapon”
Grouping search terms together in brackets ( )
Use brackets to group search terms together when using combinations of AND, OR, NOT.
“New Zealand” AND (“nuclear free” OR “anti-nuclear”) NOT “nuclear weapon”
This will find information relating to New Zealand and the idea of nuclear free or anti-nuclear. It will not include any information relating to nuclear weapons.
Keyword searching is a technique that searches for your search term anywhere.
Effect of keyword searching on your results
Keyword searching can increase the number of search results. It is a very general search - not all of the results found may be relevant to your topic.
For example, a keyword search on the term "New Zealand" will find items on many different topics.
Search tools are resources that you use to find different types of information.
Commonly used search tools include:
- Library catalogues
- Subject Guides
- The Internet
Most search tools offer a choice of search screens including:
- Basic (or simple) search - used for quick searches
- Advanced (or guided) search - allows you to build a more complex search
Library catalogues, like Library Search | Ketu at the Robertson Library, provide information about the items (e.g. books, journals, DVDs, newspapers) that are held by the library. The kind of information found on a catalogue includes:
|Description of the item
e.g. author, title, publisher details, subject links and sometimes the contents page
e.g. call number, collection, and name of the library
|Links to electronic resources
e.g. e-journals, e-books and some websites
The call number in the library catalogue tells you where to find an item. It gives the library branch, collection and classification.
Each item (book, journal, microfilm, video) has a unique call number made up of letters and numbers.
In library-speak, the term 'database' or ‘article database’ usually refers to an online search tool that indexes collections of information. Many of these databases are subscription-only – e.g. ProQuest Central - and libraries pay to get access on your behalf. Some of them are freely available – e.g. PubMed. Most library websites will provide links to both the databases they subscribe to as well as the freely available ones.
Databases vs the Internet: Why use library databases at all?
If you search Google, you’ll find plenty of results related to your assignment, but how do you know whether those sources of information are reliable? Databases link you to information that has been assessed as reliable, and give you easy options for narrowing your results to relevant research-based material (aka academic, scholarly or peer reviewed sources). If you are using the Internet, there are ways to evaluate websites.
Library databases are most often used to search for:
Journal articles (popular and academic)
Dissertations and theses
Information found on library databases includes:
Citation information – e.g. article title, author, journal title, volume, issue, page numbers
Abstract – summary of the article
Full text – full text of the article
PDF – scanned image of the full text of the article
Not every item you find in a database will be able to be accessed in either full text or as a PDF. If the database name includes the term Index, you probably won’t get full text access to the results of your search. You’ll find the same situation with freely-available databases, such as PubMed, as publisher’s charge quite a lot for access to research articles.
The content of a database can be arranged by:
e.g. Index New Zealand contains New Zealand information
e.g. Pubmed contains medical information
e.g. ProQuest contains information on a range of geographic locations and subjects
Subject guides point you to the books, journals and databases to support your studies in a particular subject area or programme. Some resources will be available online and others are available at the Library. Subject guides also provide guidelines on how to find more information in the area you are looking.
Although library resources and databases have already been pre-screened and evaluated, anyone can create a web site. There is no automatic pre-screening or fact checking of web sites so evaluate each website you read before you use it for your academic research.
Search engines are tools to help you search for websites. No search engine covers the entire web, they all have different ways of searching, so it's a good idea to use more than one search engine to search thoroughly. Google is one of the largest and most popular search engine. It is a good place to start your search.
Other search engines include:
Google search tips
Increase the relevancy of your Google search results:
A cached result is a copy or snapshot of a webpage. The cached version is always accessible, although it may not necessarily be as up to date as the ‘live’ page.
Your search terms are highlighted in a cached result. Use the cached link when you want to see where your search terms are on a webpage.
Search within a web page
You can also locate a specific word or phrase on a webpage by searching using the find tool. This is usually located in the tool bar of a web browser.
You can also use the keyboard shortcuts Ctrl+F (Windows, Linux, and Chrome OS) and ⌘-F (Mac) to quickly open the find bar. The search terms will be highlighted where they appear on the web page.
Limiting search results
Use these search commands to limit the areas where the search terms are found.
The search term must be contained in the URL which is the web address of the page. For example: inurl:AIDS “health care” means you are searching for websites with the term AIDS as part of their web addresses and health care written in the text of the pages.
This requires that the search term must be in the site address of the web page. For example: insite:ac.nz “commercial architecture” will find web pages of New Zealand educational institutions with the phrase commercial architecture in the text of the page. For example: insite:-.com pneumonia will find all pages that are not .com (that is commercial or individual owned) and will only show pages with pneumonia in the text and .org or .asn or .ac or .gov.
Finds words in the title of a page. For example: intitle:“hybrid cars” “fuel consumption” will find pages which have the phrase hybrid cars in the title of the page and the phrase fuel consumption in the text.
Finds all the words in the title of a page. For example: allintitle:“hybrid cars” “fuel consumption” will only show pages that have both phrases in the title of the page.
Looks for web pages with a particular file type. For example: “New Zealand Government” filetype:ppt will produce pages which are PowerPoint presentations with the phrase New Zealand Government in the text. For example: intitle:indigenous policy filetype:pdf will look for pages which contain the words indigenous and policy in the title and is a pdf document.
Google Scholar searches scholarly material on the web including; books, journal articles, conference papers and other literature from a wide range of subjects.
Use Google Scholar results as a starting point to find other relevant information on your topic by clicking:
'Cited by' to link to other scholarly material that cites a particular article
'Related articles' to link to similar articles
In selecting your materials, you need to make sure they are good sources of information on which to base your findings. To do this, you need to consider several key factors in evaluating the information:
Evaluate and select sources
• Who is the author?
• What is their title/position? Credentials?
• Are they a known expert in the field?
• Do they quote other credible sources?
• If it's a website, does the information have authority for its claims? Learn more about evaluating websites.
• Does it link to an organisational affiliation?
• Look for a header or footer identifying the sponsor or affiliation of the site eg the URL can provide source information http://www.fbi.gov
• Check the domain (.edu .com .ac .gov .org .net)
• Is the information up-to-date enough for your purpose?
• If it's a website, Is the page dated? When was it last updated?
• Are the links within it current or expired?
• Is the information factual, detailed, exact and comprehensive?
• Is it credible, probable or possible?
• Can the information be verified in other sources?
Is the information thoroughly researched and cover what you need?
• Who is the intended audience? (academics, potential customers?)
• Is there advertising on the page?
• Is the language used designed to sway opinion?
• Does the author have any connection to an organisation or institution that may influence their treatment of the topic?
Once you have selected and evaluated the sources you are going to use, you need to consider in more detail how they will inform the scope and argument of your work. In other words, you need to analyse your sources in more detail:
- Does the material support your argument well?
- Or does the material contradict your argument?
- If you have any statistics or data, what aspects of your argument do they relate to, and do they help illustrate a point?
This work includes material from the following sources:
Searching for information. Information Literacy e-Learning Modules. Online Information Literacy. Retrieved from: http://oil.otago.ac.nz/oil/module6.html Collaborative project between the University of Otago, Dunedin College of Education and Otago Polytechnic.
Searching on the net. Queensland Univeristy of Technology Library. Retrieved from: http://studywell.library.qut.edu.au/pdf_files/RESEARCHING_SearchingontheNet.pdf Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.
Thinking like a computer. Queensland Univeristy of Technology Library. Retrieved from: http://studywell.library.qut.edu.au/pdf_files/RESEARCHING_ThinkingLikeaComputer.pdf Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.
Business reports. Information Literacy e-Learning Modules. Online Information Literacy. Retrieved from: http://oil.otago.ac.nz/oil/module3/Research-sources/Evaluate-and-select.html Collaborative project between the University of Otago, Dunedin College of Education and Otago Polytechnic.