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Online Databases: Advanced Search Techniques and Strategies for Graduate Students in Music and Music Education

How to use the Advanced Search space available in most online databases. Specifically for graduate students in music and music education.

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The Advanced Search Space

The following discussion presents the Advanced Search Space in the abstract so that you have a theoretical foundation of how most interfaces to online academic databases function. The next section, Searching Techniques, gives specific examples of the principles listed below.

No. 1. The Advanced Search Space typically includes boxes to input search term(s) and the ability to specify which keyword index is searched. The search boxes are joined with the logical connectors such as AND or OR. These same logical connectors may be used within a search box to connect several terms.

  Advanced Search Space (generic)

No. 2. The Advanced Search Space typically includes the ability to apply pre-search limits to any search. This is the first auxiliary work space and serves as a filter on type of material you wish to retrieve from your search. Certain types of limits are shared by most databases, but some limits are specific to a database and arise out of the nature of the materials being indexed.

Advanced Search Space with Limits

No. 3. Executing a search at this point typically brings up a list of retrieved items below the Advanced Search Space. In addition most databases now show, or allow you to call up, post-search limits. The list of citations should be seen as an extension of the search space and the post-search limits represent our next auxiliary work space. These post-search options include both a repeat of the pre-search limits -- largely generic types of limits -- plus possible limits that are generated by the specific results retrieved.

Advanced Search Space with list and post-search limits

Note that the post-search limits feed back into the original search. When you apply post-search limits to a results list, most databases re-execute your original search with the additional limits.
No. 3. Most databases allow you to see exactly which individual terms or phrases have been indexed. This is done by the important parallel search space known as the browse indexes. These are accessed via the Advanced Search Space in a variety of ways and are often labeled simply "indexes". They function by allowing you to search on a word within a specific index, find that word or something close to it in an alphabetical list of all the words actually indexed. You may then transfer the term to a search space within the browse index work space and either look for other terms to add to your search or you may execute your search. Once the search is executed, you are taken back to the Advanced Search Space where you see your search listed as well as a list of the results.

Advanced Search Space with Browse Indexes


No. 4. Another type of parallel workspace in many databases are various lists of authorized headings, including standardized headings for subject, personal names, corporate names, or geographic places. If standardized subject headings are grouped in an hierarchical arrangement, that is, in arrangements where a given subject heading is listed with other headings that are considered broader, narrower, or related, then you have what is referred to as a thesaurus. These lists of standardized headings function very much like the browse indexes: they are a parallel work space where you gather terms or phrases, execute a search and then are taken back to the Advanced Search Space, where your search is listed along with a results list.

Advance Search Space with Thesaurus


No. 5. Another auxilliary work space is Search History which is essentially an archive of your searches for your current session of work in a database. Search histories are not simply a convenience, but a parallel work space which is absolutely necessary for advanced searching in a database. Using a thesaurus without using search histories is almost pointless. The key aspect of the Search History work space is the ability to connect previous searches with logical connectors such as AND, OR, or NOT.


Advanced Search Space with Search Histories


No. 6. Many databases allow for true parallel search spaces, spaces which are discrete searching areas which do not refer back to the Advanced Search Space. The most common is the Cited Reference search space. Cited Reference searches search through the bibliographies and footnotes of articles in the database to tell you who has been citing the work of a given author or a given work. Sometimes databases create subcollections related to the original database but exist as discrete collections. A commonly encountered one is for images. A database on the literature of film may have a collection of images of film personalities that is separate and discrete from the literature database.


No. 7. Altered Advanced Search Space. Most database providers provide more than one database as part of their product line. If they do they will often allow simultaneous multiple database searching. When this functionality is used, the Advanced Search Space is altered in significant ways. Typically many of the available keyword indexes disappear and only the most common remain. Database specific tools such as pre-search limits, browse indexes, and specialized indexes such as thesauri will appear multiple times -- one for each database that is being searched.


No. 8. A suite of specialized tools surround the Advanced Search Space in the same way that one's desk may have a dictionary or subject reference volumes close by. Among the most important are the Help screens. These provide help with the interface, the content and sometimes contextual help -- help specific to whatever you are doing at the moment. Some of these tools will always be accessible, such as a list of publications indexed by the database. And some will only appear when appropriate. These will typically include options for displaying or sorting a list of results and information about saving list of results, whether via email, as a download or to a social media site. Yet other tools will only display when a complete database record for one citation is displayed. These include a citation function which generates a citation in a format of your choice or a permanent URL function which displays the a permanent link to the database record you are viewing.


Advanced Search Space with Suite of Tools

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