Connecting to Connectors

I often feel like I’m not great at teaching connectors because I find them self-explanatory. You have two or more terms, and the connectors tell the database what relationship those terms should have with each other to be returned by the search. Is it easy, or am I old? Either way, I’ve found that my explanations, diagrams, and examples often don’t do the trick for students. I liked it when Lexis started color coding the search terms, which made it a little easier to see how the different words were grouped together. Like in the screenshot below, my terms “physical requirements” and lift are the same color because the connector I used between them is “or.” Since the database is looking for either one, they get the same color. The other terms are different colors since I am search for both those terms instead of either one. Last fall they added the search tree, which adds another element of explanation to the searches.

It’s fairly subtle, but when you run a search there’s a little flow chart looking icon that, when selected, shows you the number of results for your different term groupings. So, for every search you run, it’s easy to see which of your terms is most or least restrictive.

It also helps with seeing how each connector is working. My term “age discrimination” has 10,000+ possible results and my term “flight attendant” has 2,556 but when I want them in the same paragraph as each other? Only 25 documents meet that criterion. Then when I ask for “age discrimination” in the same paragraph as either one of my other two terms, there’s only 11 results. Each box in the tree is also clickable, so I can decide that I want to see results for only some of my terms without running a new search.

I especially appreciate that the search tree appears immediately when I try a search that has zero results. It shows which terms and connectors are the problems so I can decide which parts to change.

I think my favorite part about it is that the order of operations of the connectors is more obvious in this format. The different levels show you how Lexis is running the search. More than anything else, that’s what I really struggle with when I’m trying to teach a class or just work with someone individually for their research.

What have you found that helps explain connectors and search term operations?

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6 Responses to Connecting to Connectors

  1. Ashley Arrington says:

    I similarly like this as a teaching tool. Thanks for highlighting it!

  2. Olivia Smith says:

    I also like this as a tool! I think students find it easier to understand. When I teach terms and connectors, I tell my students that it’s kind of like order of operations, or PEMDAS, that they learned in math class in primary school (especially in relation to using parens appropriately), and that seems to help!

    • Jenny Ham says:

      That’s a good strategy! I think I’ve shied away from that comparison because of my own slight math-phobia, but maybe I should give it another try 🙂

      • Olivia Smith says:

        I always include the caveat that I am terrible at math and barely remember PEMDAS, but I know there is *some* logic to it

  3. Meredith Kostek says:

    In a recent assignment I even had students screenshot their Lexis search tree and then discuss how they could have modified their search based on the results. I’ve found it to be a great teaching (and learning) tool for this concept!

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