When Discovery fails

discovery photoThe Discovery Service is a great place to start searching for information for academic assignments.  It brings together many different resources and offers a single, simple, reliable search and a suite of powerful tools to find precisely what you want from a simple search.  It is also the fastest way to limit your search to what is certain to be available in the library or just to what is available from home online.

Sadly, the Discovery Service is not perfect.  This post explains how to find what you want on those rare occasions when Discovery fails.

Phrase searching is the downfall of the Discovery Service

Entering an “exact phrase” in quotation marks* should return only those results that include the precise phrase you include between the quotation marks.  Like other resources offered by EBSCO, the Discovery Service seems to sometimes behave strangely.  It ignores a long list of “stop words”: common words that are rarely helpful in identifying the search results you want.  This is helpful for most searches but not when you want a specific title or phrase.  Most search engines would look for phrases as you have written them, including all the common words in quotes.  EBSCO in their wisdom now treat stop words as ‘wildcards’ wherever they appear in a search.  This means that for the search “best in world”, results including “best” and “world” are found, but the precise phrase is ignored because “in” is a word that the Discovery Service stoically ignores under all circumstances.

* While we are discussing the intricacies of advanced problem solving in finding information, never copy search terms directly from Microsoft Word into a search box.  Copy them first into a text editor such as Notepad (or Text Edit on a Mac) and then copy the text again into the search box.  This gets rid of Word’s “smart quotes” – curly quotation marks that some search engines cannot recognise.

Solutions and alternatives

1. Search specialist resources directly

You can search the best databases available for your subjects directly.  They all work in a very similar way; they are just designed to look distinctly different.  You can find the top databases for you on your My Subject page on the Library website.  Please ask us if you would like a demonstration or advice on how to use and get the most from anything we offer or if you cannot find what you want.

2. Try Google Scholar

A quick (and dirty) solution is to use Google Scholar.  Many distrust Google because it nearly always shows you some of what you want, but very rarely everything.  The results are not as comprehensive as you might find in specialist databases and Google Scholar does not find results from every specialist resource.  It does offer an easy one-stop search, and if you are looking for information that is obscure, largely published outside of academic journals, does belong to just one subject area or is just plain hard to find, Google Scholar can be surprisingly helpful.  If you sign into Google and tell it you are a student here, it will give you “FullText@Portsmouth” links that take you to the full text of search results we offer online.   This library guide on Google Scholar explains how.

If you do not see a FullText@Portsmouth link, we might still what you want in print.  Search for the full article title in the Discovery Service or search for the journal title in the Library catalogue and select “Journals and serials” on the left-hand side.

If we do not have what you want online or in print, you can always request it by interlibrary loan.  Undergraduates are allowed up to five interlibrary loans each year (more if your department allows it); Masters degree students get 15 (please let us know when you start using them so we can increase your allowance from the default five), and researchers are allowed unlimited interlibrary loans.  Full details and an online request form for interlibrary loans are available online.

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