Using secondary sources like academic databases to search for scientific literature is not the same as searching Google for information. The most effective way to query academic research tools is to develop a search strategy. Developing a search strategy does more than help you locate articles for a paper or presentation, the process of search strategy development aides in refining your research question.
Why Develop a Search Strategy?
To develop a search strategy:
1) Identify the main concepts of your research question. These concepts become keywords for your searches.
2) Brainstorm related terms, broader terms/narrower terms and alternative spellings for each keyword
3) Combine terms using Boolean Logic.
4) Identify the tool(s) (databases, catalogs, etc.) relevant to your topic.
Biological Abstracts is a database covering life sciences and biomedical research. The focus of Biological Abstracts matches my research area, so it is a viable tool to try my search strategy.
Not all searching is the same. As you progress through the search process you can employ different types of searching to more effectively locate information.
Keyword Searching: You will begin your search for information with keyword searching. Keyword searching is the broadest in scope of the searching methods and enables you to discover a variety of sources within your area of interest. Most databases and Google preform keyword searches by default.
Subject Searching: Once you have a defined research question or area of interest a subject search will return resources in databases and library catalogs that are grouped by the subject they address. Subject searching is a more precise way to query databases. To identify subject headings (terms used by databases and catalogs to describe literature about specific topics) to use for a subject search you can:
Citation Searching (aka Citation Mining): Once you have located resources you can use them to find additional related sources. Explore the references of articles and other sources you find. Track down sources they cite that are relevant to your research. This process allows you to locate the sources of information used by your sources of information!