Amber Prentiss has created a lit review guide that focuses on searching Google Scholar, Web of Science and dissertation databases. See it HERE.
Documenting search strategy
It's a good idea to document your search process, as well as your final search terms. Things to note:
Databases selected, including database provider/platform -- i.e., Did you use the publicly accessible ERIC or the EBSCO ERIC database?
Date search was conducted
Controlled vocabulary: descriptors and subject terms
General: Date range, peer review
Database specific: field codes, unique fields (ex: methodology is a rare field found in PsycINFO)
The next tab "How can I handle my search results?" will also give some ideas on saving strategy.
You must balance being as comprehensive as possible, while staying to topic.
Combine controlled language with synonyms and phrase searching. Controlled language (subjects or descriptors in databases) takes time to form, so phrases researchers use don't always show up in subject searches. Boolean OR searching these terms creates large pools of information.
Find words that are unique to your discipline.
Words that take their context from other words, may need proximity searching. A word like "development" is a good example. You may want to find development near other words, but have more flexibility that with exact phrase searching.
Determine the importance of variables to your searching. Does the age group of a population studied matter? Only need human studies and not animal studies? If so, check to see if you can use limiters. Limiters are most precise, but you can use field searching if needed.
Example (right): In PsycINFO, it would be more accurate searching to limit to a human Population Group than to include the word human in your search terms.
If you did not have the option to use a limiter, you would want to search in a Methodology or Abstract field, where the population group is most likely to be discussed.
AND, OR & NOT are Boolean search operators. You can use these words to direct a database how to search for your concept terms.
Creates a union search - all terms join to form one group.
Creates a larger set of results - broader searches
Works well for different spellings of the same word
Works well for different types or examples of the same concept
You can combine AND, OR, and NOT to build very complex searches by grouping each concept in parentheses.
(surcalose OR aspartame OR saccharin) AND headaches
You can use OR with dissimilar concepts, but watch out for the relevancy and result size. This example would need refining, but could be a useful starting point.
(cats OR dogs) AND "household pets"
Combines concepts to find an area of overlap
Creates a smaller set of results - more narrow searches
Is an exclusionary search that can be extremely effective when combined with a field search
Good for eliminating false hits
Good for eliminating terms that may broaden the search
Good for eliminating the wrong types of articles
In the following example, I want to look at different types of therapy that cats and dogs are used for, but I'm not interested in therapy to remove phobias about dogs or cats. Also, I happen to know that authors Samuel and Elizabeth Corson do research on drug therapy used for aggressive animals. That would be the wrong direction, so I want to exclude their articles.
Set searching allows you to break apart sections of a Boolean search and recombine them. Each search you try becomes a line in a grid. At any time you can check off a box to combine lines by a Boolean command.