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PSC 210 | Comparative Politics

Professor Chris Dolan.

How to Search Effectively

  • Boil your topic down to the most important words.  Ignore superfluous words like in, the, of, with, against, affect, impact, improve.
  • Put each "different piece" of your topic in a separate search box, if available. Our topic: The impact of soil erosion/desertification on agriculture in South Africa.  Enter each different piece of your topic on a separate line.  Synonyms are connected by OR--and kept on the same line--as seen below with agriculture OR agricultural OR farming OR farms OR farm.



  • Too many results?  Focus your search by searching for your keywords in the ABSTRACT field or the TITLE field.  Click on the All--Smart Search pull-down to select the abstract or title field.
  • Too few results?  Think of synonyms.  Add synonyms to your search--using OR--and keep your synonyms on the same line
  • Increase your results by removing the least important "piece" of your search (while still retaining the "essence" of your search).  In the case above, it might mean removing the agriculture piece. 
  • Still no results?  Broaden your search slightly.  Can't find specific articles the impact of soil erosion/desertification on agriculture in South Africa?  Look for information on just soil erosion/desertification; sometimes within these broader articles, you'll find helpful information--not quite exactly what you needed, but very close.  Still no luck?  Try a different journal article database.
  • When reviewing your results, look for relevant subjects or descriptors.  Find these subject terms either on the results page, off to the left, or at the end of individual records.  Write down any relevant subject terms that you find.  
  • Go back to the search screen and using the subject terms you discovered, search your subject terms in the subject or descriptor field.  Subject terms are gold threads--they will almost always lead you to the most relevant results, b/c they allow you to search for information about the topic, not just information that happens to contain those words somewhere in the record (but may not be relevant).
  • Be sure to take advantage of:
  • Boolean connectors (AND, OR, NOT)
  • Exact phrase searching -- "soil erosion" 
  • Field searches (searching within the title, abstract, or subject fields)
  • When you find an article you want, use the                                   link to find full-text.
  • No full-text?  Use the Interlibrary Loan to get a copy.  Access that by clicking on the Looking for Full-Text link, and when it fails, clicking on the GET IT link.