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Searching Tips and Tricks: Advanced Searching Techniques

Controlled Vocabulary Searching

Controlled vocabulary--also known as subject headingssubject termsthesaurus terms, or descriptors--are the official indexing  terms used by the organizers of a database to describe each concept so that all items on the same topic have the same descriptor or subject heading. 

In contrast to “free Web” searching, controlled vocabularies organize the information in a database. You can click on a heading to see all the other items that have the same heading. You can also combine the terms in a new search to find items on that topic.

Your search results will be more focused and more relevant, since you will be searching directly in the subject or descriptor field.

Controlled Vocabulary searching starts by exploring the Thesaurus or Subject headings of a database (see individual database tutorials for more information). Search through the thesaurus or subject headings  and combine relevant terms that apply to your topic.

Pearl Growth

The pearl growth technique relies on finding or having one very good resource with which to begin. Once you've found a great article or book, you can begin analyzing how that article is defined.

  1. Start by finding the article in a database (e.g. ProQuest Central or Academic Search Complete
    • TIP: Use Author and Publication fields if you cannot find the article by title. Also, try searching for it in different databases.
  2. Once you've found it, write down the Subject Headings or Descriptors that apply to it, write down other relevant information like: Publisher, Year published, etc.
  3. Read the abstract and look for new keywords to use.
  4. Create a new search using these subject headings and keywords.
  5. You can combine subject headings with other information you've written down.

Basically, you are trying to recreate a search that would have found your starting article, which will pull in similar articles.

Citation Searching

citation search is a search for other articles that have made reference to a particular book or article. A citation search will show you who has mentioned a particular article, where, and how many times.

Citation searching is also very useful if you are trying to trace the evolution of a scholarly idea or theory. When you find other works that have cited a particular work, you can see how the idea has been changed or added to over time.

Citation searching can also be useful if you have one relevant article but are having trouble finding others. Use the citations in your one relevant article to find the resources your article used. This is considered moving up the acestry of an citation line, and can often lead to new discoveries on your topic.

Some databases allow you to see citation information (e.g. JSTOR). Others will have citation links, allowing you to navigate by clicking on a citation that interests you and find more information (Google Scholar).

Google Scholar

To use Google Scholar for citation searching, either enter an article title, author, or search by keyword. 

Each result has a "cited by[N]" link below it. This tells you how many times an article was cited.

Clicking on this link will bring you to another results page that lists all the citing articles.