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PSYC 499

This guide has been created to provide assistance for students in PSYC 499 who are working on their research assignment

Advanced Search Techniques - Fielded Searching

What is it?

Most search tools default to searching for your keywords in the title, author, subject heading and abstract of a document.

Searching within the full text differs from this in that when you set up a search to search within the full text, not only are you searching within the title, author, subject headings, and abstract fields, you are searching within the full text of the document itself.

Why use it?

Searching within the full text is particularly useful if you're trying to focus in on a very specific word or phrase which you are having difficulty finding.

It is also very useful when searching ebook collections, as you can skip to the instances of the words or phrases you searched, without having to browse through entire books, which can be a timesaver.

How does it work?

Most databases will have a search option to search within the full text, which you can toggle on and off as required.

Refer to the help guide of the search tool you are using to determine if this is an option.


Searching within the full text often yields many more results, some of which will be irrelevant, so more thorough vetting of the results set is required.  It's a bit of a tradeoff -- what you lose in precision you gain in a more thorough search of the documents.  If you find you are getting too many irrelevant results when searching within the full text, revert back to the default search settings.

Advanced Search Techniques - Proximity Searching

What is it?

Proximity searching is a form of advanced search which allows users to look for strings of words within a given distance of each other in a document.  Users can specify how close keywords should appear to one another.

e.g. A search could be used to find "Internet education", and match phrases such as "education over the Internet" or "use of Internet in various education settings" -- all of which would be relevant.

Why use it?

Proximity searching helps to avoid search results where the words are scattered across a page or a document, unrelated to one another, and helps to return more relevant results.

How it works:

NEAR operator - finds words within a specified distance of one another, in any order.

e.g. tax N5 reform

The words tax and reform must appear in a document within 5 words of one another, regardless of order.

WITHIN operator - finds words within a specified distance of one another, in the same order in which you entered them.

ADJ operator - ADJ stands for adjacent, and works the same way as "phrase searching" in that it finds keywords that are adjacent to one another in the text.

e.g. welfare ADJ reform is the same as "welfare reform"

Variations: NEAR or N(and a number), ADJ, WITH or W(and a number)

Refer to the help guide of the search tool you are using to determine if proximity searching is an option.

Advanced Search Techniques - Nesting

What is it?

Nesting is a technique used to enhance keyword searching by allowing you to control the logic of the search by incorporating the use of parentheses or brackets.


symptoms AND (H1N1 OR "swine flu")

Why use it?

Like a mathematical statement, a search statement is performed left to right, and keywords in parentheses are solved first before the larger statement.

Looking at the example below, the search for the keywords in the parentheses will be performed first, returning all the documents that contain H1N1 or swine flu, and then documents that also include the word, symptoms, second.

symptoms AND (H1N1 OR "swine flu")

When you have a complex search statement and do not use parentheses, your search will be performed in an illogical order and you will likely end up with illogical results.

Looking at the example below, symptoms and H1N1 will be searched first, then swine flu.  Since swine flu and H1N1 are the similar keywords, it would make more logical sense to search these two together first, then look for symptoms.

symptoms AND H1N1 OR "swine flu"

How it works:

As a general rule, it is best to use parentheses or brackets when grouping keywords with similar meanings (synonyms).


(cats OR felines) AND (diet OR food)

(aboriginal OR indigenous OR "First Nations") AND language AND education

("West Indies" OR Caribbean) AND (reefs OR coral) AND damage

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