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Information Literacy

How to find and use information effectively


A person looking through a magnifying glassPlanning is all about search techniques.

It's important to take a little time to read around the key concepts of your topic.  It could really help as you begin to look for resources, especially when it comes to choosing search terms.  For example, if you are writing an assignment on autism you will clearly use the search term ‘autism’, but some initial reading around the topic (Wikipedia articles are good for this) can help you identify additional search terms, like ‘special educational needs’, ‘learning disabilities’ and ‘developmental disorders’. In this way, a little research can go a long way to enhancing the quality and quantity of your research.

This 7-minute video was made by librarians at the University of Sydney in Australia. It's pitched at first year undergraduates and is very light-hearted, but provides a good introduction to searching and search terms.

Alternatively, alongside the guidance below we have produced two short videos of our own: 'Basic Searches in WorldCat' and 'Advanced Searches in WorldCat' which you may find useful.

Top search tips

The guidance below is primarily designed to help you use WorldCat, but is broadly applicable to all sorts of online resources, including search engines and library databases.  If you are having difficulty with a particular search engine or database take a look at its help pages. 

General tips for basic searching

A really broad search term like drama or education will produce an unmanageable number of results so try to use phrases or combine different types of search terms like names, title words and keywords, e.g. potter hallows rowling, and use speech marks to look for exact phrases, e.g. “educational psychology”.

Boolean operators and special symbols

Boolean operators, and some punctuation marks and typographical symbols (+, -, ?, *), allow you to expand and restrict search results very effectively. Boolean logic is a form of algebra developed in the nineteenth century by mathematician George Boole. It has since been adopted by computer programmers and librarians to perform logic-based searches.  The words AND, OR and NOT (capitalised) are known as 'Boolean operators' and can be used in the following way:

diabetes AND obesity (or diabetes + obesity) will find items containing both words;
football OR soccer will find items that contain either word;
radiation NOT nuclear will find items containing radiation and omit those also containing the word nuclear.

You can also use the plus and minus signs directly in front of a word to make sure it is included or omitted from results.
For example: Lincoln -abraham -car -nebraska     or     plough +constellation 

In WorldCat you can use a hash as a single wildcard and a question mark as a multiple wildcard, e.g. wom#n will find woman and women, and re?se will find revise, release, response and so on.  You can also truncate a word with an asterisk or a question mark (you must use at least the first three letters), e.g. organi* or organi? will find organise, organisation, organiser and so on.

NB.  Google automatically defaults to AND searches, so there's no need to use AND or + in Google, but it does support OR searches provide you type OR in capital letters.  For more about Google search operators click here.

Filtering results

Many databases and search tools allow you to filter your results in order to increase the number of relevant hits.  In WorldCat you can filter your results in a variety of ways (by format, author, year etc) using the check boxes on the left of the results screen.  You can also click the full text filter to omit any results that aren't full text.

Interpreting results
WorldCat search results are likely to contain a mixture of physical and online resources. Any online resources that display an orange View Now button, like e-books or full-text journal articles, can be opened and viewed straight away (you will need your BGU login to do this if you are off campus).  For any physical items held in the Library click on the Availability link to see how many copies there are and if any are available to borrow. The Editions and Formats button indicates if there are multiple editions of the same book, and if the Library has physical and electronic copies of the same book.
To locate an item in the Library take note of the information in the location and shelfmark fields.  Location tells you which part of the Library to look in and how long an item can be borrowed for. Shelfmark tells you where each item belongs in the classification sequence.