Get close…but not too close…

As we’ve mentioned in other help resources, there’s a little trick called ‘phrase searching’ which allows you to find multiple search terms together in a specific order by enclosing them in quotation marks.  While that’s a great strategy, what do you do when you need to find your terms close together but not in any particular order? Well, as you might have guessed, there’s a trick for that too: proximity searching. (Yaaaaay!)


Image by ebbmart. CC license here.

(Now that that’s out of the way….) This is a particularly useful strategy when you’re searching for a concept that can be expressed in a number of ways.

For example, let’s say you’re looking for sample dissertations in which the author developed their own testing instrument. You hop on over to the dissertation database, highlight the search box, and then….wait…how do you search for this?

Searching for the phrase “instrument development” is too specific and relies too heavily on other researchers using the same phrase as you.  But searching for ‘development’ AND ‘instrument’ is too broad and you know you’ll be inundated with results to sift through.  This is the perfect situation for the proximity search!

So, how do you do it?

Proximity searching will require using some particularly strange syntax.  Essentially, you need to use a symbol (typically the letter ‘N’) to tell the database you want to find your search terms ‘near’ each other. And you also need to include a number which represents how many terms apart you want to find your search terms.

The syntax, then, ends up looking something like: ‘Search term 1’ N/# ‘Search term 2’

What?  I know, it sounds strange, so let’s go a bit farther with our example. When you think about it, there are several ways a researcher might describe developing an instrument:

“the development of an instrument”

“for this study an instrument was developed”

“the process of developing the instrument”

I can see that the terms ‘development’ and ‘instrument’ are usually no more than 2 or 3 terms apart. Also, I have noticed that it’s likely people will use different endings of the word ‘develop’. So in the ProQuest Dissertations database I would build my proximity search like so:

instrument N/3 develop* (forgot what the asterisk does? Check out our post on truncation here.)


Some snippets of results returned from this search include:

  • “the purpose of this study was to develop an instrument for the assessment of”
  • “the instrument developed consists of behavioral descriptors”
  • “I developed an instrument to assess whether”

Prefer to see this tip in action?  Check out our quick tip proximity searching video:

The fine print…as per usual…is that different databases may use different syntax/symbols for a proximity search.  I showed the ‘N/#’ example as this is used by all ProQuest databases.  Should you ever try to run a proximity search and find it does not work as you expected, consult the help guide for the tool you’re using to see their preferred syntax.

Happy Searching!

Dead URLs — let’s go wayback

Does this scenario sound familiar? You read an interesting article. You’re perusing the list of references to discover further reading suggestions. You find an awesome prospect with a ‘retrieved from’ URL.  You follow the URL only to be presented with that persnickety message….“The page cannot be found”.  


What to do? Turn that frown upside down and head over to the ‘Wayback Machine’, a tool brought to you by the Internet Archive.

The Wayback Machine “is a service that allows people to visit archived versions of Web sites.” Your friends at the Internet Archive have been diligently archiving webpage content for decades which makes it possible for you to view, browse, and surf older versions of URLs.

Why is this good news for you?  This tool can allow you to follow that great ‘retrieved from’ URL so you can actually see the content instead of the irritating ‘page not found’ message.  Hooray for no dead ends!


How does it work?

Step 1: Connect to the Wayback Machine at this URL:

Step 2: Copy and paste the dead URL into the search box at the top of the page, like so:

Screenshot of wayback webapge.

Click image to enlarge.

Step 3: Press ‘Browse History’.  When you do so, the results screen will indicate any dates on which the contents of this specific URL were saved by the archive.  You can use the graph at the top of the screen to select a particular year, then click on an individual date to actually see what the page looked like at the time:


Click image to enlarge.

Step 4: Explore the archived site.  If you went to a very specific URL (like in this example) you may only be able to view one page.  If you followed a general URL (see our older post about the Wayback Machine to see it used on Fielding’s own website) you will be able to click on links and ‘surf’ the site.

Here’s a screenshot of what you see following the example above:


Click image to enlarge.

Notice with delight that this allows you to read the full article that used to be posted at this URL!

Even though the URL currently leads to a dead-end, the Wayback Machine allows you to see what used to be there.

Next time you run into a dead-end scenario, try plugging the URL in here to see if you can still access the past content.  While the Internet Archive, of course, cannot index every webpage ever created, it does store A TON of content.

Happy Searching!

ProQuest Power Search

Happy New Year blog readers!  After the holiday break and a busy Winter Session we are ready to get back down to business with some more tips.

What’s on this week’s agenda?  Cross-searching ProQuest!

Now calm down, contain your excitement. Let’s talk about what this means exactly.

As you may have discovered, sometimes searching Fielding’s FASTsearch returns too many results.  But sometimes searching just one subject-specific database does not allow you to see how your topic is treated within other disciplines. What to do, what to do…?

One great option is to search several ProQuest databases at once (a.k.a. “cross-searching”).  This method allows you to hand-pick several (or more) databases covering subject areas relevant to your research.

How It Works

To get started, follow the ‘databases’ link on the library website and select any ProQuest database. Once you’ve connected look in the top, left-hand corner of the screen for a link labeled ‘Change Databases’:

On the next screen you will find a list of all of the ProQuest databases to which Fielding subscribes.  Now, you can read through the descriptions and select any you would like to add to your search. Once you’ve made all of your selections, just click on the ‘Use selected databases’ button:

If you want to confirm that the process was successful, take a look at the number in parentheses (after the word databases) in the top, left corner of the new screen. This number should correspond to however many databases you selected:

And voila! Now when you run a search you will be searching all of these resources at once! Wasn’t that easy?

But….Why Exactly?

This method will let you expand your search to relevant subject areas without going quite as broad as FASTsearch. For students whose research covers multiple disciplines and subject areas, such as education topics, it can be beneficial to cast a wider net.

As always, feel free to contact the library any time with questions.

Happy Searching!

Nesting: Not just for the birds

When you hear the term ‘nesting’ it probably conjures up an adorable image of a little bird or animal building a home or caring for their young….

Nesting Season

Image by Pat Gaines. CC license here.

However, in the world of library research, this term means something different.  When we talk about ‘nesting’ as a search strategy it actually refers to the ability to search for multiple synonyms at once by enclosing them in parentheses and connecting them with the operator ‘OR’.

You can think of the parentheses as the little nests which hold your search terms.  How sweet.

Why Bother?

Aside from having a cute name, the real benefit of ‘nesting’ is that it allows you to search for the multiple ways a term could be described all in one go.  Since you cannot predict what language another author has used when writing about a given subject, searching for variants is a nice way to make sure you find all of the relevant materials.

For example, let’s say you are doing some research about the consequences of divorce for young children.  While it may be tempting to just use ‘consequences’ as a search term, it’s a good idea to brainstorm some of the other ways this term could be expressed.

In addition to thinking of exact synonyms, try to also consider related terms that might still return relevant results.

Here’s an example of a list I created after brainstorming some other ways to describe my initial search terms:

  • Effects
  • Reactions
  • Adjustment
  • Repercussions

Of course, you could likely think of many additional terms.  While we are keeping this example rather simple for the sake of demonstration, remember that you could also brainstorm and nest synonyms for your other search terms as well.

Translating your list into a database search

Once you’ve thought up some alternative terms, the next step is to carry out your search in the database of your choice.  When you nest terms in a library database using specific syntax, the database knows that you are looking for any one of those terms in order to bring back a matching result.

What’s the syntax? Enclose the terms in parentheses and separate them with the operator ‘OR’.  Here’s what I would do following the example above:

(consequences OR effects OR reactions OR adjustment OR repercussions)

If I want to add any other search terms, nested or not, I would connect those to the search by using the ‘AND’ operator, like so:

(consequences OR effects OR reactions OR adjustment OR repercussions) AND children AND divorce

It is almost like building a math equation.  Each piece of punctuation or operator indicates a very specific action to the database, telling it which articles are acceptable to return in your results list.

Sample Search in PsycARTICLES

Nesting terms is a great way to increase the number of results you find.  Let’s take a look at how this might play out in an actual database, like PsycARTICLES.

First, here is a screenshot of a search I conducted without nesting:

sample search no nesting

Click image to enlarge.

In this case, I searched for: divorce AND consequences AND children.  This search yielded 14 scholarly articles.

Next, I will build a search and nest the synonyms I brainstormed:

building a search string with nesting

Click image to enlarge

**Note, I chose to build my entire search in just one of the search boxes, in one long string (like a math equation).  If you prefer, you can use the boxes below to connect your additional terms with ‘AND’.

Here is a screenshot of the results page generated from this nested search:

results from nested search

Click image to enlarge.

You can see that by nesting some related terms I was able to find 160 more scholarly articles than in the previous search. The database has more opportunities to return a match since I gave it the flexibility to find one of a number of terms related to ‘consequences’.

If you were feeling particularly wild, you could also consider nesting some more specific language for the term ‘children’.  For instance, if you’re focused on “young children” you may want to do something like:

(“young children” OR toddlers OR preschoolers OR infants)

The fine print

As with all things, there are times nesting works better than others.  If you find that you are retrieving far too many results, consider eliminating one or two terms to see this how this changes what you find.

Likewise, if you nest many terms but all of your results tend to use the same one, this is probably a good indication that nesting those additional items is unnecessary.

As ever, Happy Searching!

Using one little symbol to find more results

Here’s a little search tip with a big name that can help you find more results during your research: Truncation.

You only need two things in order to take advantage of this search method: 1) the knowledge that some terms may be expressed with multiple endings, and 2) your handy friend the asterisk symbol:


Original image by cutesmallfuzzy. CC license here. Adapted from original.

The word ‘truncate’ literally means to cut something short. In the case of library research, when you truncate a search term, you chop off its ending and replace it with an asterisk (example below).

But why?! 

Well, most databases recognize that an asterisk means you would like to find all of a word’s possible endings. This is particularly useful when a word may be expressed in different ways while maintaining its general meaning.

Take, for example, a search term like ‘finances’.  You could imagine that some very similar terms would include:

  • financial
  • financially
  • financing
  • financed

But if you do a keyword search for ‘finances’, you will not see the results that use other forms of the word instead.

Truncation is the trick that will allow you to find all of these various endings in one go, reducing the number of searches you have to run, while increasing the number of results you retrieve.

How do you do it?

When you’ve decided you’d like to truncate a term, first identify the place at which variation might start to appear.  Following the example above, all of the words contain the same root: financ.  After the ‘c’, however, we begin to see variance.  Sometimes there is an ‘i’, other times an ‘e’.  This means that we should place our asterisk (i.e. truncate) after the ‘c’, like so:


That’s all we have to do to let the database know we want to find the various endings.

Let’s take a look at a sample search so you can see how this might affect the results you find.

Sample without truncation

The screenshot below represents a search in which I did not use truncation:


Click on image to enlarge.

Sample with truncation

Now, here is a screenshot of the same search in the same database, only this time I used truncation (financ*):


That one small change resulted in about 1,500 additional results.

As I scrolled through the results and read some abstracts I could tell they were still related to my research interests.  Since I truncated my term, in addition to records with ‘finances’, I was also able to find things such as “financial planning”, ‘financing your retirement’, ‘being financially prepared’, etc. which explains the increase in my number of results.

Truncation is a great way to find more results, whether you are not finding as many as you hoped or you just want to make sure you’ve done an exhaustive search for related materials.

While most databases will recognize the ‘*’ as the preferred symbol for truncation, there are always exceptions.  If you are attempting to truncate a term and it does not appear to be working properly, be sure to consult the database’s help guide which will show you what symbol to use.

One final note…

Truncation can be a huge help, but if you try to truncate a word that is too short, it may turn out to be a huge pain.  As you can image, truncating a short term like ‘art’ could yield tens of thousands of irrelevant results (artists; artery; artichoke; artificiality; and on and on…).  Just be vigilant of this when employing this strategy so you do not overwhelm yourself with wild results.

Happy Searching!

Free Samples!

Free hugs

Image by Matthew G. CC license here.

Okay, you caught me…the library is not giving out free hugs (although after how busy Summer Session was perhaps it’s not a bad idea).

This ‘free samples’ post actually refers to finding sample survey instruments, interview questions, questionnaires, and so on.  A post we did not too long ago, Test It Out, covered some of the key steps in finding studies which employed certain tests or measures (hooray!).  But today’s post focuses on a way to find actual survey and interview questions…which can be a bit tricky.

As you probably know, scholarly articles do not typically publish appendices revealing the survey/interview questions used in obtaining results.  So what do you do when your advisor directs you to “find some sample questions” other academics have used?

Laptop on fire

Image by Chris Pawluk. CC license here.

First, you resist the urge to set fire to your laptop.  Second, you cruise on over to the Fielding library website and connect to the ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global database (by following the ‘databases’ link on the main library website).

While most scholarly articles do not include the full-text of their survey instruments, dissertations and theses do!  That’s right, as you are well aware, graduate and doctoral students must meticulously account for how and why they achieved the results of their studies. Lucky for you, this means the appendices of these documents are a gold-mine of sample measures.  Let’s head on over to the database to take a look at how this works.

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global

When you connect to the database, you will land on the familiar blank advanced search screen.  If you’ve connected to this database with the intention of finding sample questions–or just sample studies which employ a certain method (i.e. phenomenology, case study, etc.)–the best way to accomplish this goal is to search using a term or two describing your topic and a term describing the type of measure/study you hope to find.

Let’s imagine I’m doing some research into organizational cultures and need to find some sample interview questions.  I may build my search like so:


Click image to enlarge.


Though quite basic, I’ve asked the database to look for the phrase “organizational culture” and the keyword ‘interviews’ anywhere except for in the full-text of the document.  Since the dissertation’s abstract will include a piece about the methodology used, this is a fairly reliable method to employ to find the samples you need.  Here are the first few results this search retrieved (**note, I blacked out the author/institution names since I could not ask for permission to display them):

sample results page

Click image to enlarge.


As you can see underlined in red, each of these works’ abstracts has a portion which explains interviews were used (at least in some capacity) to obtain some data.  From here, I could preview abstracts, select a relevant document, then open the PDF to view the appendix which would contain a copy of the questions employed.

Your particular research topic is likely more specific that just ‘organizational culture’ so remember you can use multiple terms to refine your search.  Let’s do one slightly more refined sample search together for good ‘measure’ (pun intended).

In this case, let’s imagine my research focuses on the use of social media by teenagers and I plan to conduct a case study. I might build my search like so:

screenshot of case study search

Click image to enlarge

Not sure about all that fancy syntax?  Make sure to check out the search tip handout on the ‘Quick Tip Docs’ page for explanations.

In essence, that search asks the database to find the phrase “social media”, to find any one of those terms describing teens or youth or adolescent, and to find the phrase “case study”.  This yielded 17 results total, here’s a sampling:

sample of results page

Click image to enlarge.


And there you have it.  Just another trick to have up your sleeve as you work on your own research.  Hopefully this means that next time you’re asked to find some samples you’ll react like this…

man crossing finish line

Image by meridican. CC license here.

Happy searching!  And remember you can always contact the library with questions (

Subject Headings & Thesauri (a.k.a. let’s demystify some jargon!)

This week’s post offers us a glimpse into some of the rather confusing jargon of library research: subject headings, keywords, and database thesauri. While these terms sound rather boring and unhelpful, they actually refer to several strategies which can significantly assist you in the research process.

Let’s be honest: you probably never, or hardly ever, even think about ‘subject headings’ (or ‘subject terms’ as they are also called). Why would you? You likely wouldn’t even think to search this way unless you noticed the option when selecting a search field:

search fields

The difference between searching by subject and searching by keyword is all in the name.

  • When you use a keyword, you are searching for words in the work’s title, abstract, etc.
  • When you use a subject heading, you are searching for the subject of the work, regardless of the keywords used to describe it.

Imagine it this way. Let’s say you are doing some research related to supervisors in the workplace. There are a number of keywords which might describe someone in this position: supervisor, manager, boss, leader, and so on.  However, in a database, all of these keywords will be categorized under a single subject heading, such as ‘manager’.

Here’s a one-minute animation describing this difference for all of the visual learners (and cartoon watchers) out there:

OK librarian, why bother?  Well, subject headings are a wonderful tool to use during initial research. If you are having trouble thinking of synonyms, or you just want to be sure to catch every document within a certain category, searching for its subject term will help you do that.  Likewise, there are subject terms which can help you find certain types of documents such as case studies or reviews. And, since subject headings refer to the ‘aboutness’ of an article, they typically return highly relevant results.

OK librarian, how am I supposed to think of subject terms?  That is nearly impossible. Seriously, some subject headings use quite unnatural language or appear bizarrely complicated (depending on who created them).  This is where the database thesaurus swoops in to the rescue!


Image by Lights Camera Click. CC license here.

Dinosaur humor aside, a database thesaurus is designed to help you discover subject terms related to your topic. Many database vendors, such as ProQuest and EBSCO, offer links to a thesaurus on their advanced search page.  Once there, you can search for a term in order to figure out its preferred subject heading.

Here’s an example. I opened a thesaurus in ProQuest and searched for ‘case study’. The thesaurus returned a result for ‘case studies’ which included a note stating: “used to identify articles that focus in-depth on a single company or organization’:



When I use ‘case studies’ as a subject term, this will ensure that all of my results have been officially indexed as case studies by the database creators.  Now, I can combine this subject term with a keyword or two related to my topic:



On the results page, instead of having to sift through each document to determine whether or not it is a case study, I already know that I am only viewing documents officially indexed as such.

As mentioned, this thesaurus strategy works great both for discovering terms related to your subject and for specifying certain types of documents.

Remember, you can also discover subject terms after conducting a keyword search. Imagine you did a keyword search on employee feedback and found a great article. You can click on its ‘citation/abstract’ to view which subject terms were used to describe it.  This way, you can consider adding one or more of these terms to future searches:



Want to see a video example of how keywords and subject terms alter the results you will find? Check out our thesaurus video here, or find it by following the ‘quick tip videos’ tab at the top of the screen.

As ever, happy searching!

Cited Reference Searching (Or, The Savvy Researcher’s Strategy)

As your scholarly research becomes more narrowly focused, you will no doubt begin to have more and more trouble finding articles related to your topic. While this is wonderful in that it means you are conducting unique research (Yay!), it is not so wonderful in that it can be difficult to find the requisite sources to complete your lit review (Boo!).  So, where do you go from here?


Image by Lori Greig. CC license here.

One wonderful strategy for tackling this problem (or any research, really) is ‘cited reference searching’.  If you are unfamiliar with the term, it simply means looking at which authors/publications have cited an article related to your field of study. Following citation chains helps you track the scholarly conversation while at the same time freeing you of the need to think of the exact search terms which might elicit such results.

The Fielding Library has a number of resources which can assist you with this type of searching: Google Scholar, Social Sciences Citation Index, and many of the individual databases (such as those made by ProQuest).

Social Sciences Citation Index is a database dedicated exclusively to this type of research. It’s worth becoming familiar with, but requires a bit more depth than a handy blog post can supply. Check out the Fielding Cited Reference Searching LibGuide to learn all about it, Google Scholar, and PsycINFO!

Let’s take a look at a simpler example using Google Scholar.

Imagine you are deep into your research on adolescent involvement in community organizations, but you’re having trouble discovering additional articles. You do have a citation for a wonderful article published in 2008…so why not see who has cited it since?

You head over to Google Scholar, being sure to connect via the library so you can see what results we have in our collection. When you land on the search page, simply copy and paste the full article title in the search box and press search:


Below the article title/description, you will see a convenient little ‘cited by’ link (if the article has been cited). Simply clicking on this link will then display the list of citing articles. Even better, while viewing the citing articles, you can select to ‘search within’ them to find those most related to your topic:


‘Search within’ is a wonderful tool, particularly when you are viewing lists of dozens or even hundreds of citing articles.

As a quick recap, one of the greatest benefits of cited reference searching is that it frees you from the difficult task of predicting which search terms will find the best results. For example, an article came up in my Google Scholar results list about ‘neighborhoods and HIV’. While this certainly sounds related to community organizing, it may not have come up in a keyword search if it those exact words (‘community’ and ‘organizing’) were not used in its abstract.

A final word to the wise: citation numbers are only numbers without context. An article could have been cited 97 times because it provides wonderful contributions to the field, or because 97 other authors wholly disagreed with its content. Context is key with citation numbers!

Happy Searching!

Test It Out!

For today’s post, we’ll focus on a frequent question we receive in the library: How do I locate sample studies which use the test/measure/scale I plan to use?

Great question! Many students are interested in discovering samples of how a certain measure has been employed previously to give themselves a sense of how they might use it in their own research.

…but where do you even begin?

Maze (미로)

Image by Seongbin Im. CC license here.

Here are a few suggestions to get you on the right track:


The PsycINFO database has an amazing search option called….(drumroll)…’Look-up Tests & Measures’. (Disclaimer: Even though ‘psyc’ is in the title, tons of subject matter is included!) You can locate this handy feature under the ‘Search Options’ header on the advanced search page:



So, what can you do with it?  When you follow this link a pop-up window will open in the center of your screen.  Here, you can either search for a specific test/measure, or you can search for tests which have a particular word/words in the title.  We’ll take a look at how to search for a specific test, but you can employ the exact same technique to discover tests with certain words in the title.

Known Test

Let’s say I’m getting ready to conduct some research, but would like to see sample studies which have used an ‘anger management scale’.  Once I’ve followed the ‘look up’ link, I will search for tests which contain ‘anger management’ in their title like so:



From here, I can scroll through the test titles, check the box next to any I would like to include in my search, and press ‘Add to search’ when I am finished.

Once you do so, the ‘look up test and measure’ search box will automatically be populated with the test name(s).  Now, without doing anything else, you can just press the ‘search’ button to look at all the matching documents. (Of course, if you wanted, you could add in search terms to make the sample studies even more specific):

search page


After pressing search, my results list will show those documents which employed the ‘anger management scale’ .  Of course, it’s possible (and likely) that these documents will have used multiple tests and measures.

If you ever want to see every test used in a particular study in PsycINFO, simply click on the ‘citation/abstract’ link below the title.  Then, scroll down to view the indexing details for that document:




Okay, okay, but what if you not only want to find a sample study, but you want to find the actual test/measure/scale used?  This is certainly a bit trickier.  It’s important to know that while you may readily find some tests/measures, other times the only way to obtain the official test/scoring mechanism is to purchase it.  But we’ll offer some suggestions to get you started!

Finding the actual test/measure


As luck should have it, in addition to the PsycINFO database, we also have one called PsycTESTS.  Here, you can search for a particular test in hopes of seeing not only how it was developed, but of seeing its full-text as well.

Here are some sample results from a search I did for “anger management”:



As you can see, some results are test ‘summaries’ while others include the test itself.  It’s always worth exploring these results to see if you find any good matches.

ProQuest Dissertations & Theses

Know what studies pretty universally include copies of their test instruments?  Dissertations!  Most dissertations/theses included appendices which have full-text copies of survey or interview questions, measuring scales, etc.  Searching in the ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database is a wonderful way to locate such items.

You could search for keywords specifically related to your topic; the name of a test or measure; or you could combine those strategies as I’ve done in the example below.  In this case, I searched for the phrase “anger management” and for a keyword related to a scale.



Of course, like any research, it may take some sample searches and revisions to land on the combination that yields the best results.

There’s a lot more to learn about tests and measures!  Be sure to check out the other Fielding resources on this topic.  The Clinical Psych LibGuide contains a page (including a powerpoint) on tests.  You can check it out here.   We’ve also created some mini-tutorials on using PsycINFO which are available on the Quick Tip Videos page of this blog.

Of course, you can always get in touch with the library for more assistance.  Now go test out these techniques!