The ISU Library provides access to a wealth of high quality information resources. From the books in our stacks to the online databases we subscribe to, you have access to more information as a student at Iowa State than you may ever have again. Make the most of it!
Additionally, each subject area at ISU has its own liaison librarian. Liaison librarians are experts in using the information resources in a given field or discipline. If you need help navigating all of the resources at your disposal or developing your search strategy, don't hesitate to contact your librarian!
It takes time to successfully complete a thorough search for information, so plan ahead! Set some time aside for searching the scholarly and trade literature, looking for patents and standards for similar products, and for reviewing the articles, patents, books, and other relevant resources you do find.
Additionally, the resources you need may not be immediately available at the ISU Library. We can borrow just about anything you need from another library, at no cost to you, but the interlibrary loan process takes time. Articles often arrive within hours or a couple of days, but physical items can take up to 7 business days.
Computers typically cannot understand natural language so it's important to give them simple and logical instructions. This page explores some strategies for improving your searches: Boolean expressions, keyword searching, phrase searching, truncation. You'll also find some information here on using common features of article databases: advanced search and the thesaurus. All of these techniques can be combined to create better searches.
Google's Inside Search Tips & Tricks is very useful for learning the basics of searching but please be aware that not all of these will work the same way for every database.
Boolean searching lets you tell the computer to do certain things with keywords that you are using in your search. Searching this way works in Quick Search as well as in the various databases where you'll find articles, papers, etc.. If you want more help try out the tutorials linked below.
When you combine keywords with AND you will only get results which contain all of the keywords joined by AND.
Use AND when you need to narrow a search to contain ALL keywords.
When you combine terms with OR you will get results which contain any of the terms joined by OR.
Use when you want to broaden a search to search for related terms or variant spellings (example: "climate OR climatic OR climates")
NOT is used to specify keywords to ignore. Some search engines and databases don't support NOT (Google uses "-" instead for example). NOT can be useful when you are searching for a word with multiple meanings or need to exclude certain topics from a search.
Most of us are familiar with keyword searches: you enter words and you get back results which contain those words. It's important to choose your keywords carefully otherwise you will get no results or the wrong results. Use these basic tips to improve your keywords:
To search for a phrase or multi-word concept place the words or phrase in quotation marks. The quotation marks tell the search to find all of these words together in this order.
Truncation is a way to place "wildcard" characters in your searches. This is useful when trying to include word variations in your searches.You need to be careful where you truncate a word - if you truncate too early you may end up with unexpected results that contain unrelated words with the same spellings. The asterisk(*) is the symbol most databases use for truncation.
When searching, look for the Advanced Search option. Often this will give you more control over your search results without the need to filter or refine your results after the fact. For example, with the advanced search you can often choose to search just scholarly journals or conference proceedings.
If you can't find anything relating to your topic in a database or index that you think should have the information you're looking for, look for the Thesaurus. The thesaurus is a list of terms that function like tags and are used to indicate what a particular paper is about. Often you will find that the official thesaurus uses different terms than the ones you may have been using to search. By using the official terms from the thesaurus, you are communicating with the computer in its own language (so to speak) and it will have a better chance of giving you relevant search results.
Finding the thesaurus varies depending on which database or index you're using, and not all of them will have a thesaurus. Look for a link near the top or near the search box that says "Thesaurus", or check the Advanced Search page. These are the places you'll most often find a thesaurus link.