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Middle School/Upper School Research: Advanced Searching Techniques

Search Strategies- How to Use

Once you have gathered background material and performed initial searches for more specific materials, you can move on to advanced searching techniques to garner more specialized results.  Many of these techniques are forms of pearl growing, which is when you take one good piece of information and use it to find other pieces of information.  

Pearl Growing

Pearl growing refers to taking one great piece of information (your single particle) and turning into a full body of research.  It includes many techniques listed on this page.  Some ways to grow your pearl of research:

  • Citation chaining-- both forward and backward citation chaining are listed on this page
  • Looking at an article or book's subject headings in a database or library catalog and using that subject heading (this works well because instead of using your keywords, you are now using the database or catalog's official language, which creates better results.
  • Looking up your authors' body of work-- many authors stay consistently in their subject area

Backward Chaining

Backward chaining is the process of looking through a useful article's citations, to see what past sources and authors influenced your author's research. It can be incredibly useful in finding new sources for your own research, but also for understanding the context of your article.  This is done simply by reading your book/article's bibliography and selecting specific sources to investigate.

Tracking Down Journal Articles

In order to find a specific journal article, go to the e-journal list at NYPL.  Search for your journal, and then select the appropriate database based on the year of your article.  If the article is not available as an e-journal article, go to the research catalog, and find your journal.  From there, you can request a scanned copy of your article to be delivered via e-mail.  If your article can't be found with any of those methods, it might be time to consider some additional sources!

Journal Run

journal run is the process of finding one academic journal that is relevant, and searching only within that journal to find targeted articles.  Most databases have an advanced search option that allows you to search within that journal, excluding other results.

Forward Chaining

Forward chaining is the process of taking one key article, and finding other journal articles that have cited your original article in their research.  Not only can this help find other useful sources on the same specific topic, but it allows you to see what current academic work has been inspired by your source material, which can be key for certain papers.  This is most easily done in Google Scholar.

In order to forward chain, enter the article or book name into Google Scholar, and then click "Cited by" to see the works that have cited your source material in their bibliographies.  From there, you can scan the list of articles, or click "search within citing articles" to use targeted keywords.


Boolean Operators and Other Query Modifiers

Boolean operators are words (AND, NOT, OR) used to combine or exclude keywords in searching, which can yield more effective results.  All databases have this capability within their advanced searching menu, or you can use them in the simple search bar.  Google has this capability within its advanced search, but not its basic search.

AND:  This operator tells your database that both keywords must be present in your keywords. This is good to narrow your search. Example: "New York City" AND subway limits your search on public transportation by location.

NOT:   This operator tells your database to exclude a category of information from your keyword search. This is good to narrow your search. Example: "Martin Luther" NOT King limits your search without scrolling through pages of incorrect results.

OR: This operator tells your database to find several keywords at the same time. This is good to broaden your search.  Example: dog OR puppy.

Other query modifiers:

  • Quotation marks: putting quotation marks keeps the whole phrases or names together. If you search for "martin luther"
  • Truncation: using an asterisk tells a database to ignore suffixes or prefixes. For example, teen* will pull teen, teens, teenagers, teenaged. *bee will pull bee, honeybee.

Advanced Searching in Google

So what if you want to use some of these database techniques in Google? Google is a "natural language search engine," which means that it expects users to type keywords in a string, or to ask questions as they would out loud. However, Google does have (hidden!) advanced searching capabilities.  Type "advanced search" into the search bar to access its advanced search page.

Google Advanced Search

Information Search Process


What is the Information Search Process? It is a model (created by Carol Kuhlthau over decades of research, published in 1991) that links the stages of the research process with your emotive state. It can be helpful for determining what stage, and for understanding how your feelings evolve in the process. Remember, it is normal to be feeling confused, frustrated, uncertain, etc. during the research process-- reach out to your teacher or librarian to break out of a research rut to move into the next stage!

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