Understand the Process
- Information research is an iterative process, meaning a cycle rather than a straight line.
- Brainstorm search words -->
- Explore initial search results -->
- Refine your research question, and add or remove search words based on your initial search -->
- Conduct a more targeted search -->
- Repeat! -->
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Brainstorm Search Words
How is sleep affected in people with brain injuries?
Step 1: Break up this research question into two or three main concepts. Ignore extraneous words.
- Concept #1: sleep
- Concept #2: brain injury
Step 2: Conduct an initial search with these words, and quickly scan the results.
Step 3: Using information from your initial search, add synonyms, acronyms, and variant spellings.
- Concept #1: sleep, insomnia, hypersomnolence
- Concept #2: brain injury, tbi, concussion
Understand Boolean Operators
- Even if the search engine you are using doesn't require you to enter boolean operators, it is still using them behind the scenes. It will help you to know the logic behind your search
- AND gives you results that include ALL of your concepts.
- OR gives you results that include ANY of your concepts.
- Essentially, you are searching:
(sleep OR insomnia OR hypersomnolence) AND (brain injury OR tbi OR concussion)
Try Subject Searching
You are probably most used to keyword searching, in which you brainstorm search words and various synonyms.
Subject searching can be used in addition to or as an alternative to keyword searching. If you use the correct subject heading, you will capture synonyms automatically (e.g. "brain injuries" will find "brain injury" and "concussion"). How do you know what the correct subject heading is? You can look them up in many databases.
- In PubMed, change the drop-down to "MeSH".
In PsycInfo, click the "Thesaurus" link.
There are people whose job it is to read articles and assign subject headings to them (i.e. decide what they are "about"). It's kind of like assigning a hashtag to something in Twitter and then being able to search by that hashtag (...kind of).