Tag Archives: search techniques

Web of Science – new interface

Web of Science was the first major database made available for online searching by students themselves. It launched in the U.K. back in 1990 as BIDS (Bath Information and Data Service, as it was based at Bath University.)

Despite the name, Web of Science (WoS) contains something for everybody. It includes the Science, Social Science, and Arts and Humanities Citation Indexes.  Clearly it cannot cover everything in such wide areas: in fact, it only covers about 5% of the journals published.  However, it covers the core titles, the journals which are most cited in each field each year.

This makes it an excellent first choice for exploring a subject. You get to see what has appeared in the core journals, without anything that will be too obscure or hard to find. For undergraduate work that will usually be ideal. Researchers have the further option to search for papers which cite the key papers on their topic, to see how the field has progressed.

The latest WoS interface has a black banner with orange lettering, very like the new RHUL style.  Perhaps we were ahead of a trend? Beneath it the search form has been reduced to a single search bar, like Google’s (and LibrarySearch). For more complex searches you can click “Add another field”.

It is still possible to narrow your search to just some of the indexes, to save time and reduce unwanted results.  Just click on “More settings” to see the indexes and deselect those that are not needed by unchecking their boxes, as in this example:

WoS science search

In the search above, the inverted commas around “honey bees” specify that we only want those two words together as a phrase.  The asterisk after disease* is a “wild card” which will also search for ‘diseases’ or ‘diseased’.

Notice in the black banner that we are searching “Web of Science core collection” but there is an orange arrow by it.  Clicking that gives the option to search other databases, in particular Biosis Previews, which lets you search the largest single life science database from 1969 to 2008.  You can also choose “All databases” to search them all at the same time. This makes WoS the core resource for biologists.

When the results appear, the FindIt@RHUL  lozenge which previously appeared under every result has disappeared.  Don’t worry, just click on the solid block labelled “Full Text” and the familiar blue button will reappear.

WoS search results

The range of saving buttons above the search list has been replaced by a single block labelled “Save to EndNote online”.  But it has a down arrow beside it.  Click that, and you will get more options, including “Save to EndNote desktop” and “Save to RefWorks”, the main supported options at Royal Holloway.

If you liked the old interface, don’t be put off by the solid blocks of the new one, everything still works as it did.  Whether you are researching for a first year essay or a doctoral thesis, WoS is a good place to start.


Adrian Machiraju

Top 5 tips for getting ahead with your Dissertation this summer

1. Master search techniques

Plan your search strategy at the start and you will be able to find lots of relevant resources which will save you time in the long run.

  • What exactly is the topic you are searching for?
  • What are the main concepts or keywords for your topic?
  • Are there any similar words that describe each of these concepts?
  • How might you combine these keywords together to search? 
  • Use tricks like Wildcards and Truncation to search effectively. There is more information on this here.  
  • Look at the Cited by and Cited references for what you have found – save time by using the references in good research to find more good research. 

There is lots of help in the Library Space on Moodle about this.

This video shows you how to Search Smarter and Search Faster:

 2. Evaluate your resources

You have mastered your search techniques but you now you need to think whether your results are good enough. This presentation will give you some guidance in how to evaluate information.


3. Check Senate House

You have access to all the eresources provided by Senate House Library along with those provide by RHUL. You need to register but this is easy to do and instructions are here.

You can search through their websites or you can connect to Senate House through Google Scholar. There is more information on this in this post.

4. Use the library

The library is your best friend at dissertation time. You can come in or use our virtual enquiry services to ask questions. Keep an eye on the Blog and Moodle for new training being offered. But most importantly use the Library Subject pages to find out which resources are best for your subject.

5. Manage your references and Get organised

Managing your references using RefWorks

RefWorks is an online bibliographic management program which enables you to capture, save and organize references into your own personal database. As a member of RHUL you can access it via the library homepage link to E-resources A-Z. It enables you to:


     Capture and save references generated from online databases

     Automatically generate a bibliography in your document

     Insert citations directly into your research (i.e. word document)

     Format your references in a wide range of citation styles


RefWorks includes a comprehensive set of online self-help tutorials, or you may wish to sign up for the one of the RefWorks sessions that the Library regularly runs or try the self-study start up guide:


Use tools like Evernote and Dropbox to organise your notes.

Search Techniques


Truncation / wildcard searching

 > Use to: widen your search and ensure you don’t miss relevant search results

Most databases are not intelligent, they will just search for exactly what you type in.  Truncation and wildcard symbols enable you to overcome this limitation.  These search techniques find information on similar words by replacing part of the word with a symbol usually a * or ?.

     In truncation the end of the word is replaced. For example theat* will find results including the words theatre, theater, theatric, theatrical and so on.

      In wildcard searching, single letters from inside the word are replaced with a symbol. For example wom?n will retrieve the terms woman and women.

Please note! Different databases use different symbols for truncation and wildcard searching, so use the online help option to check what is used.


Search operators

 > Use to: combine your search words and include synonyms

Also known as Boolean operators, search operators allow you to join terms together, widen a search or exclude terms from your search results. This means you can be more precise in locating your information. Not all databases support Boolean searching.

  • ANDNarrows your search by combining words. The results found must contain all the words which you have joined by using AND.

  • ORBroadens your search to include resources which contain any or all of the terms connected by OR.

  • NOTNarrows your search by excluding a term.  Beware! By using this operator you might exclude relevant records because you will lose those records which include both words.


Please note! Check the online help screens for details of the search operators recognized by the database you are searching; some use symbols instead of words, e.g. + or &.


 Phrase searching

> Use to: make your search more specific

Phrase searching is a technique that narrows your search down by searching for an exact phrase or sentence. It is particularly useful when searching for a title or a quotation. Usually speech marks are used to connect the words together. For example “Power transition theory will find results which contain that phrase. Some search tools may use (brackets) or ‘single quote marks’ rather than speech marks so check the online help.


Focusing a search by date, language or document type

There are many ways to focus your search and all databases offer different ways of doing this. Check the help facilities if the options are not immediately obvious. Some of the ways of limiting your search are as follows:

     Date of publication

     Language

     Place of publication

     Publication type

     Age groups

     Type of material e.g. chapters in books, review articles, book reviews

“Cited reference” / “cited by” / “times cited” search

When you find a useful article or book, looking at its bibliography will give you information about other, older, books and articles on your research topic. Some databases also allow you to search for literature which has cited the article or book you have found. This can give you useful leads on more recent research on the same topic. There is no standard name for this type of search; depending on which database you are searching it may be referred to as “Cited reference” or “cited by” or “times cited”.



3.8 Saving your search results

You usually have the option to select specific search results to keep by marking or tagging them. Most databases will offer the following methods of saving your search results:

     Email search results to yourself.

     Save to your PC or memory stick.

     Create your own account within certain databases to save your searches to re-run later or set up alerts

     Print out

     Export to bibliographic management software such as RefWorks or Endnote

     You can use alerting services such as Zetoc Alerts to receive regular e-mails to update you on new publications. Once the alert is set up, it happens automatically, so you do not need to re-run literature searches at a later stage, unless you wish to – http://zetoc.mimas.ac.uk/


It is good practice to keep a record of which database you used and the search query you used.