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Tarleton State University Libraries Unit 4
USING PHRASE SEARCHES
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image of puzzle pieces   Phrase Searches help users locate items using words in an exact order (a phrase). They can also enhance the accuracy of searches and reduce the number of unusable search results. On the other hand, phrase searches will sometimes decrease search efficiency if the phrase used is not indexed in the tool or present in the full text articles.

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HOW PHRASE SEARCHES INCREASE PRECISION
Using phrase searches helps restrict a search to relevant items. For example, when looking for information about employee unions (as in trade unions, not marriage) a search for the words employee unions in the database Project Muse yields almost 200 returns--many of which have nothing to do with the topic of trade or employee unions. On the other hand, a search for the phrase "employee unions" yields 8 results--all of which discuss trade/employee unions. Modifying the search terms further as discussed in other parts of this unit would probably further enhance the precision of the search.

However, phrase searching can also hinder success if terms are combined as phrases that are not indexed in the search tool or are not used in the full text articles. For example, the phrase "how to negotiate with angry employees" may not return results in a business database, while a different type of search (i.e. negotiat* and angry and employee*) would--the techniques used to form the example search are discussed in other parts of this unit.


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HOW TO CREATE PHRASE SEARCHES
Usually phrase searches are indicated by enclosing search terms in quotation marks (i.e. "human resource management"). However, some search tools use other symbols to indicate phrases. For example, Tarleton libraries' catalog single quotation marks (apostrophes) are used to indicate phrase searches (i.e. 'human resource management').

Also, some online search tools automatically assume phrase searches. For example, the database JSTOR automatically phrase searches more than one term on the same line in a search box.

Therefore, consulting the online search tips in the databases to see which symbols to use and to find out other specifics will increase success rates, save time, and reduce frustration.

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Updated 7/2004