Sent to you by Sean McBride via Google Reader: Some very helpful FAQ
about searching via Alt Search Engines by Charles Knight on 10/30/08
Author: Juergen Plieninger, Librarian

Editor: Institute of Political Science, University of Tübingen

Bottom Up Searching: If you know specifically what you are searching
for, you can take the search direction bottom up. That means, if you
are searching with a specific catch word and if you don’t get useful
results, repeat the search request with a more common search item.

However- before searching with superior (advanced) terms, first try it
with synonyms. Here are some examples:

- If you don’t find something about trade unions in Belgium, search for
trade unions in Western Europe.
- If you don’t find something about direct democracy, search for
democracy theories.
Often you will find an area for entering advanced terms, which will
then allow you to specify your search.

If you are searching the WWW, the instruments for specific searches are
called search engines.

Top Down Searching: If you are not very familiar with the knowledge
area you are searching in, it would be better to begin your
systematical online research with a superior item (advanced term) and
then to continue with increasingly specific items (which you will
become familiar with during the research process).

If you are searching the WWW, the instrument for browsing beginning
with a more common item is the thematic index (or web catalogue).

The Search Matrix: Often, social scientists don’t manage their online
research well. It’s frequently a process of trial and error, not
systematically planned research. But it does not have to be that way!
Imagine, many of our searches cannot be processed with one search item;
often it is necessary to make a combined search with two and more
search items or terms.
By searching within a database or a catalogue, do you think that the
right search items are at your fingertips? I don’t think so.

A search matrix could be an aid for creating an efficient research
strategy and for realizing the search. If one requires closely and
distantly related associations (matches), synonyms, and English or
foreign-language translations for several concepts, and wants to be
able to link them all into a single searching instrument- then a matrix
is an obvious solution in the early stages of the search.

An empty matrix looks like this:
item 1 item 2 item 3 wider term narrower term Synonym Acronym english
translation 1 english translation 2
if your first language is not English, it is important that you
translate your search terms into English seeing as it is the language
of most search resources.

Example: You are searching for the rotating function of the EU’s
Council of Regions
function, role Council of Regions European Union wider term
institutions, decision making council, representation of interests,
lobbyism international organisation / organization narrower term
function regional interest, interest of specific region(s) interest
groups in the european union Synonym federalism, regionalism regional
policy european policy Acronym - CoR EU, EG
With the search matrix (incidentally a professional instrument for
reference librarians), you have a tool for well structured research
into questions which are composed of several items.

Other Search Techniques

Use Block Building: If your question is too varied or complicated for a
search matrix, split the topic in blocks (or sections) and try to find
catch words in the database you are using, or make a search matrix for
part of the question. Perhaps it is possible to summarize blocks using
the necessary search words with the help of Boolean operators (AND, OR,
and NOT) in your searching inquiry.

Citation Pearl Growing: If a specific document corresponds to your
thematic interest, you can search for it in a library online-catalogue
or a database. You can enter your search and check the catchword
results offered by the librarian or the processor. Then you can use
those catchwords to search for similar documents. By doing this you can
grow or expand the catchwords for your search by applying the interim
results. In German, there is a precise term for it: Schneeballsystem,
literally, snowball effect or system. If you want to apply this effect
using internet search machines, choose those which give you the option
refine your search (sometimes also named “clustering”) or similar

Boolean Operators: With the combination of three operators AND, OR and
NOT (sometimes correct: AND NOT) you can narrow your search by looking
directly for documents which contain either some or all search items or
exclude search items from the result list.

Most searching services have added the AND-function as a default in
their easy search menu.

AND: An “AND” function limits a search.

You should use the operator “AND” …
… if you want to find all items in your list of catch words…. if you
are sure of the formulation and wording of your search item…. to limit
general search items.
OR: The “OR” function extends a searching inquiry.

You should use the operator “OR” …
… if you are not sure about the wording of an item… if you would like
to find documents in different languages, for example “strawberry OR
fraise”, “democracy OR démocratie”… to find documents with synonyms,
e.g., “EU OR European Union”, “Sri Lanka OR Ceylon”… to increase the
number of results
NOT: The operator “NOT” or “AND NOT” can be very helpful in improving
the quality of your results. With this function you can exclude phrases
and items which might increase the number of your searching results

NEAR: The distance operators NEAR and ADJ (for adjacent = adjoining)
offer you the possibility to fix the maximum distance between request
items in a document. If, for instance, an “AND” linking incurs too many
results and you can not find any additional search items in order to
further limit the amount of results, it can be helpful to find
documents in which the items you are searching for are in closer
vicinity to one other.

The distance operator ADJ insures that the request items are found
directly side by side.

Jokers, Search Strings, & More

A wildcard or joker offers the possibility of searching for parts of a
word or word endings. Thus you can search for a particular section of a
catchword, and combine different searching inquiries into one. To mark
the missing part of the word which must be contained in the result
document, special characters are used. Use of the star “*” is very
wide-spread; with some data banks utilizing the dollar sign “$”, and
other searching services using the question mark “?”.


A phrase search uses fixed and compound items and is an excellent
instrument in order to search more specifically as compared to
utilizing several catchwords.

A phrase search helps if you are searching for documents with persons,
companies or products, for example. You should also investigate with
items such as “Federal Minister of Economics” or other specific names
in this manner.


If you are not familiar with the terminology of a special theme, a
thesaurus-search can be valuable. A thesaurus is a controlled,
hierarchical list of terms.Humanities and Social Science Electronic
Thesaurus from HASSETT.

SOSIG Thesauri:
General Social Science Thesaurus
Government, Politics and Anthropology
Social Work and Welfare

Standard-Thesaurus Wirtschaft

Thesaurus Sozialwissenschaften

Thesauri in the WWW list in German.

Tips & Tricks

If you need dictionaries, please consult yourdictionary, more specific
glossaries you can find with the help of The Glossarist.There are
several online possibilities for synonym searches:
Key Word Map
Search term suggestion tool
Visual Thesaurus

There’s a pretty little tool for looking for similar websites parallel
to web searches: Nextlinks simultaneously displays a list of 10 similar
sites for the page shown in your browser. It’s a service of the
University of Leipzig which you can download and install here.

The inclusion operator “+” is very often mistaken with the boolean
operator “AND”. However, there is a very important difference: the
inclusion operator ensures that the preceding search item is contained
in the result list. Example: the search inquiry “party + labour” will
find all documents which contain the item “party”, while “labour” might
be contained, but does NOT have to be.

Some searching services permit the search for single web page elements.
This can be an additional help in the case of very high result numbers.
The following elements are searchable:
- title: finds WWW-sites with your search word in the title
- domain: or site: you can find sites with your desired national or
organizational limitation
- image: finds sites with graphic arts which correlate to your search
- url:searches for your search word in the URLs
This is the best and most efficient way of summarizing possible search
words into one searching inquiry with the help of brackets. Indeed,
many “extended search options” offer this in their menu already,
however, line oriented input with the help of brackets offers you more
freedom for creating a precise inquiry.


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