Effective Search Strategies – a sign of being Information Literate?

We are not unfamiliar with the tendency of people to search for the required information through the world wide web, especially Google. Even though plenty of information is available on this search engine, the accuracy and the high relevance of retrieved information cannot be guaranteed. Therefore, it becomes mandatory for people to learn about search strategies that would enable them to access reliable and trusted sources of information contributed by authors, editors, and other contributors such as researchers. People or Information users are required to use search strategies to find relevant sources of information not only in the academic field, but also in other disciplines and in their respective professions. Depending on the profession users belong to, there is a need for them to become a domain expert. Trusted information is not available to the web search engines such as Google but can only be accessed through licensed web services or databases such as Google Scholar, ScienceDirect, ProQuest, Emerald, Scopus, Informit etc.  

Roy Tenant’s observation, “Only librarians like to search, everyone else likes to find” pointsout the difference between a librarian and a common man looking for information. The observation that librarians teach the searching language of the databases to users who hardly use those or aspire to become expert searchers has been challenged as studies have proven that users yearn to retrieve information immediately. It is an undeniable truth that users/people approach friends, family, Google, Wikipedia etc., first to find a certain information before they approach the librarian as a last resort as pointed out by Karl Fast and Dr. Grant Campbell. Teaching the users search strategies to retrieve precise resources in an effective and efficient way would be one of the ways in which librarians and educators could equip the information users with lifelong learning skills.

As users are usually familiar with Google, they use this web-based search engine to begin the search. When a basic search is carried out according to the need, the results obtained are in millions as the content available on the internet is large. One cannot ascertain if the retrieved information is all from reliable sources and if these are the most relevant. Knowledge gained from Lib guides from various sources can be used to prepare effective strategies. While using the advanced search function of Google, if more limits are applied to the searching language, it either fails to extract any results or retrieve resources that do not have the key words either in the title or in the abstract/body of the articles and if there are relevant resources it does not show on the first page.

The reliability of the information could be determined to a certain extent by checking if the URL of the webpage contains .edu, .gov, .org or .com. The difficulty in using Google to search for the user’s query is that the retrieved results are not all scholarly articles unless you are using Google Scholar. Licensed web service/database extracts trusted resources that are not only scholarly but also peer-reviewed besides book chapters, conference papers, indexes, guides that are either open access or full text access. What strategies works for Google does not work for popular databases thereby confirming the fact that different databases require different search strategies.

A basic search carried out on Google, retrieves 3,260,000 results: however, the less the recall the more the precision. While using the advanced search functionality of the world wide web via Google, it is possible to use the search strategy, “your search words” filetype: pdf.

Application of the limit ‘books’ to the searching language “as per your need,” filters and extracts only books. The vocabulary recommended by The Library of Congress Subject Headings can be used to search for the articles on any topic via Google. While conducting the author search, Google retrieves many books. Another way of searching for an author would be to search for books and the retrieved results would show who authored those books. Google searches brings images of the articles or books or other information sources as well.

Boolean operators such as AND, NOT, OR can be used as an effective online search strategy on Google. The recall is usually less in number and the accuracy/relevance is more on Google. Proximity operators can be used as one of the effective search strategies to retrieve most relevant articles. Proximity operators as in “your search words” near/4 (4 stands for years) extracted most precise results. Truncated words as recommended by thesauri or search words within parenthesis also known as Nesting logic can be used for a precise information retrieval. For example (liaison librar*) AND (roles) (OR academic librar*).

If you have not given a serious thought to search strategies before while conducting a search, now would be the time to start thinking and using the recommended strategies. It also means that you are information literate. Have fun experimenting with different search strategies. 

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