Part 3. Develop your Search Strategy

10 Strategy #2: Examine your Results

In the previous section we looked at search results using the library’s Summon search tool and found a range of items coming from scholarly journal articles, books and ebooks, newspapers, and more.

If you were to examine just a few of the top results, you would quickly see related and more specific terms that might help in subsequent searches; for example vaccine exemption and vaccine hesitancy provide slightly different perspectives on the topic and correspond to disciplinary approaches. Articles about vaccine exemption would examine the issue from a legal perspective (an individual’s right vs. population health), but articles about vaccine hesitancy might examine it from a philosophical or psychological perspective (opinions, trust in government, or misinformation). Similarly, you might find additional synonyms or alternate terms (immunization, herd immunity) that will help make your searches more complete.

As a researcher, asking yourself how these narrower and alternate terms relate to what you want to find out will be an important part of your search strategy.


Tip: Results ranked by relevance

Summon and most of the library’s databases will return search results ranked in order of relevance. After performing a search, always examine closely the top few items for more precise search terms, synonyms, or other related pieces that you might add to the next search.


Move to an article database

Moving your research over to one of the library’s databases will bring a more focussed set of results.

Our earlier keyword search showed us that vaccine hesitancy might be a useful concept for finding information about what motivates some people to refuse vaccinations for their children. Doing a search with the term “vaccine hesitancy” in Academic Search Complete, the library’s largest, multi-disciplinary database, yields the following results.

(Click on the thumbnail for a larger view.)

Database search results
Database search results

The majority of articles using the term “vaccine hesitancy” come from academic journals, indicating that it is a concept or term used by researchers or scholars in a variety of fields, but not so much in the popular or mainstream press. A close look at the subject terms also provides an indication of how the results are focussed: some will concentrate on public health, others on parental attitudes, and others on immunization more generally.This kind of strategy tells you how the issue is approached by different perspectives, and what might be most relevant for your own research.

See this page for a list of article databases the library subscribes to.

Try the library catalogue

A search of the library catalogue will yield books/ebooks, as well as videos in the collection. Again, results are ranked by relevance. Examining the first few items in the list will give you further ideas for searching. You may find books whose entire contents will be useful to your search, or you may find edited works, with a single chapter relevant for your research.

Access the library catalogue directly.

ACTIVITY: Analyze the details of a book 

The image below was taken from the catalogue record for a book on vaccines and children. Click on the hotspots to see what kind of information about an item is available in the catalogue. Use this to further inform your search.



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Doing Research Copyright © 2019 by Celia Brinkerhoff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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