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Searching the literature

A guide for staff and students undertaking a thorough literature review

Truncation and wildcards

Truncation (or stemming) means entering the stem of a word plus a truncation symbol so that you retrieve other forms of the word:

Example: comput* will retrieve computer, computers, computing, and computational

A Wildcard does a similar trick within a word:

Example: wom$n will retrieve both women and woman

Boolean operators

The Boolean operators AND, OR and NOT are used to combine terms in a database search.

Search for individual terms or concepts first and then go to the search history and combine the sets using Boolean operators.

This video from the University of Auckland shows you how Boolean operators work.

Proximity Searching

In most databases, putting words into inverted commas (speech marks) searches for that exact phrase, for instance "Assertive community treatment" or "Users' perspective".

However in EBSCO databases, you must use the Advanced search and tick on the Boolean phrase option.

In many databases you can also specify that you want to find words close to each other but not necessarily directly alongside.  In the examples above, searching for the exact phrase would not retrieve relevant expressions such as "assertive treatment in the  community" or "from the perspective of the users and their families".

You can retrieve them by using proximity or adjacency indicators.  Check the online help in each database for exactly how to do this - it is complicated! For instance: user NEAR3 perspecetive will retrieve records where  user occurs within 3 words of perspective.  In other databases you would have to type in user N/3 perspective or user adj3 perspective.