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SOSC 3520 - Understanding Comparative Politics: Smart Searching Techniques

Questions to Ask as You Evaluate Search Results

Questions to Ask Yourself : Search and Evaluation are tightly tied together!


  • Do my terms or ideas related to my terms turn up in the title, abstract, or source title?

Date or Time

  • Does the publication date show it fits in my time period?
  • Does the publication date
  • Does the title indicate that the time period covered in the item relates to the time period I’m studying?

Amount of results

  • Am I getting too much (feeling overwhelmed?)
  • Am I getting too little (feeling like there’s nothing to build on)


  • What is it?  (video?  Article? Book?)
  • How long is it (7 page article? 30 page article, 300 page thesis?
  • Is it appropriately scholarly and reliable?
  • If npt scholarly, is it from a reliable source?

Use Search fields to decrease or increase your results

Search one area/field (e.g. title)  to set limits on your search. This will help you.  

  • Sometimes your first search finds little. In library-land we call this "too narrow".
  • So you will want to modify the search and try to get more results. In library-land we say you want to "broaden" the search.
  • For example, go from searching the title only, to searching the full-text.

From the first search in a search engine that you do, be aware and critical of what you are finding. Think about what you are searching (title only? full-text? subject?). 

Search field Exampls in Proquest


Example: Search fields in Proquest

Search field





ab(“political development”)



ti(“political development”)

Publication title


pub(“journal of democracy”)



au( amartya sen)



yr (2012)




Identify Concepts & Keywords

Identify Main Concepts and Keywords

The best way to search most databases is by keywords. You need to "translate" your research question into concepts and keywords to help the database understand what you are looking for.


Topic: Political development in Malaysia, Indonesia & Singapore


How has the concept and practice of federalism affected the development of Malaysia, Indonesia, & Singapore?

Concept Mapping

  • Concept 1: federalism
  • Concept 2: Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore
  • Concept 3: Autonomy, secession, minorities....

Map concepts to keywords, Think of...

  •  Synonyms (words with similar meaning)
  •  Related terms (narrower & broader)


Concept 1: federal, federalism, federation....

Concept 2: Malaysia, Malaysian, Malaya... Indonesia, Indonesian... Singapore, Singaporean

Concept 3: autonomy, autonomous, secession, secede, devolve, indepenence...

Example - Search Technique 3 - Boolean Searching

Combining Keywords into search statements using Boolean Connectors

Boolean Connectors  Examples


 - All keywords must appear in the results
– Narrows a search, find less numbers of record

Malaysia  AND "political develoment"


–Any one or all of the keywords should appear
–Broadens a search, find more

"political development" OR federation

(  )

Brackets combine keywords of similar concept


("political development" OR "d" ) 


(malaysia OR malaysian)



Don't make your search too long and complicated.

Begin by combining only TWO aspects (focus areas) at a time.

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