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SOLO - Search Oxford Libraries Online (Classic): Searching for books on a topic

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Searching for books on a topic

There are three main ways of searching SOLO for a topic

  1. Searching using topic keywords
  2. Browsing the subject index
  3. Using one relevant item to find other items on the same topic ("one good record")

Guidance on each of these topics is given below.

Searching for a topic using keywords

It is very easy to search SOLO by entering keywords. However, your search results will only be as good as the keywords you entered and the search string  you used when you entered them into SOLO. 

If you want to do a thorough literature review it is important to think carefully about your keywords. In particular:

1.  What are the key concepts in your research topic?   These will be your main keywords.

2.  Are there any synonyms or alternative words or phrases that may have been used in the published work instead of the keywords you have chosen?  When considering this, remember that when you search SOLO, you are not searching the full text of all the books and other items,  you are just searching brief details including the title, author, main subjects headings and in some cases an abstract.  If a book's title or subject headings, don't use the same words as you have entered in the search box, you won't find it, even if it's a key text on your topic.  It is therefore important to think of alternative terms and synonyms that may have been used.    In particular think about:

  • synonyms or alternative words or phrases that may have been used e.g. for woman alternatives might be female or girl
  • spelling variations spellings e.g. organisation / organization or irregular pluralisation e.g. women, woman
  • alternative word endings e.g.  child, children, childish, childishly, child's
  • If you are looking for items in more than one language you may want to include the words in several languages e.g. "civil war" / "guerra civil"
  • spelling out numbers (particular when talking about dates) e.g. 19th century / nineteenth century, 1960s / sixties

3.  How will you enter your search string so that SOLO understands it correctly?  Once you have thought carefully about your search terms you will need to create a search string.   If it is a complex search which includes alternative terms and spellings you will need to build a search using "boolean operators" and using "truncation symbols" and "wildcards".   The main boolean operators, truncation symbols and wildcards are as follows, but for more detailed guidance on how to build a search please scroll down to Building a search string - an example.

  • AND - use AND between distinct concepts in your search. e.g. If researching the employment of women in higher education then your main concepts would be employment, women and higher education. Each of these is a distinct concept and therefore should have an AND between it e.g. women AND employment AND "higher education". This tells SOLO that you only want results which include all of these words.   (Note if you are running a relatively simple search in SOLO, you do not need to enter AND between your search terms as by default SOLO will assume that you want to find items with all of your search terms. However, once you build a more complex searching, including for example OR, it is sensible to include AND between the distinct concepts because it will ensure that SOLO interprets your search correctly)
  • OR - use OR between alternative words. In this case alternative words for employment might be work or workplace. Your search would therefore be employment OR work OR workplaceLikewise an alternative for higher education would be university (giving the search string higher education OR university).  The OR tells SOLO that you want search results which include at least one of the terms in the group but not necessarily all of theme.g. your results must have either the phrase higher education or the word university (but they don't necessarily need to have both). Using OR allows you to be thorough in including alternative words and will return more results.  
  • (use parentheses) - When using OR and AND  at the same time you need to use parentheses to help SOLO to understand which terms are combined using OR and which terms are combined using AND e.g. women AND (employment OR work OR workplace) AND (higher education OR university)  This tells SOLO that all of your main concepts must be included in your search result (the AND component) but that some of the words could be substituted with an alternative (the OR component) e.g. the results must have the word female AND either the word employment or work or workplace AND either the words higher education or University.
  • * - You can use an * to find alternative word endings. e.g.  employ* will find employ, employed, employment and work* will find work, works, worked, workplace, workforce and universit* will find university, universities, university's
  • ?  - You can use a ? to stand in for a single character when you are not sure of a spelling (or when an alternative spelling gives a different meaning that you wish to include) e.g. wom?n finds women and woman
  • Use "quotation marks" when you want to search for a string of words when they appear next to one another as a phrase but not when they appear separately.  This is useful when two or more words have a particular meaning when they are used together.   It is particularly useful for names (e.g. South Africa, United Nations, "carbon monoxide") but also for concepts where two words have a particular meaning together e.g. "Higher Education", "Human Rights".  For example the search "Higher Education" would return results which had these words next to one another e.g. Report on the State of Higher Education but not where these words appear separately e.g. Education - A Higher Purpose.

e.g. an effective search string for this topic might be:
wom?n AND (employ* OR work*) AND ("higher education" OR universit*)

Building a search string - An example

To illustrate, here is an example of building a search on the topic of the human rights of children in war.

In this example, there are three main concepts:

  1. human rights
  2. children
  3. war

If you enter these keywords into SOLO it will only return items which include all three of these key concepts.  (Note - Strictly speaking you should enter these search terms with an AND in between each separate concept e.g. human rights AND children AND war. The AND's tells SOLO that you only want items which include all three concepts.   However, when you're doing a simple search like this you don't need to remember the AND because SOLO will assume that you want all of your search terms to be included. Later on as you build a more complex search, including the AND becomes more important)

The simple search human rights children war will give you a reasonable number of items on the topic, which may well be sufficient if you just need to read a few items.   However, for a more thorough search you should first consider whether there are any alternative terms for each of the concepts.  e.g.

  • Children - alternatives for this term might be minors, juveniles, infants, youths, young people etc
    • In addition, you may want to consider plurals and singular forms e.g. child, children, juvenile, juveniles etc
  • War - alternatives for this term might be conflict
    • In addition, you may want to consider alternative word endings such as warfare

To include these alternative terms in your search you need to combine each set of alternatives using OR e.g. war OR conflict.  This tells SOLO that they are alternative terms and that you want to find items which include at least one of these terms but not necessarily both (e.g. your results should include either the word war or the word conflict or both). If you don't include OR SOLO will assume that the search results must include both terms. e.g. the search war conflict will only return items which include both of these words, whereas the search war OR conflict returns results with one or other of these words of both. The search OR will return more results because it is including an alternative.

When using OR it is also important to enclose the words in parentheses. This helps SOLO to understand which words are alternatives.
e.g. (war OR conflict) AND (children OR minors OR juveniles OR infants)

Now that we are building a more complex search we need to use AND. AND tells SOLO that each concept MUST be included in the search results. For example  (war OR conflict) AND children tells SOLO that the search results must have the word war or conflict (or both) but it must also have the word children.  In our earlier search for human rights children war we wanted all the concepts to be included but we did not need to include AND.  This was because in a simple search SOLO does not require you to enter the word AND because it assumes that you want all the keywords to be included.  In a more complex search it is sensible to include AND as it will ensure that SOLO understands your search correctly.  Our search is therefore:

human rights AND (war OR conflict) AND (children OR minors OR juveniles OR infants)

You can also improve the search by adding * to the stem of some words where it might be useful to find alternative endings e.g. child* finds child, children (and also child's, childish, childishly etc).  Likewise juvenile* finds juvenile and juveniles and war* will fine war, wars, warfare

human rights AND (war* OR conflict*) AND (child* OR minor* OR juvenile* OR infant*)

Finally, if you have two or more words which mean something particular when they are used together it is useful to put these in "quotation marks". This will tell SOLO that you want results where these words are next to each other as a phrase but not when they are separated. Using "quotation marks" is particularly useful for names. e.g. "South Africa" will tell SOLO to look for items which include the word South and Africa next to one another (i.e. which are about the country whereas without the quotation marks SOLO may find items where the two words are separate and which are not about South Africa at all).      Although quotation marks are useful for names, they are also useful for concepts which are always expressed as a phrase e.g. "human rights".

Our search is now: "human rights" AND (war* OR conflict*) AND (child* OR minor* OR juvenile*)

What to do if you get too many results?

If you get too many results by:

  • Narrow down your research topic. For example you may decide to limit your search to a particular region (e.g. human rights of children in war in Africa) or period (human rights of children in war in the 21st century) or by concentrating on one particular aspect of the topic e.g. child soldiers or children as refugees of war or psychological impact of war on children.    You can narrow down your results by
    • Adding keywords using AND
    • Using the refine options on the left of the screen
  • Concentrate on the most recently published items. You can narrow down your search to the most recent items by:
    • Using the refine by date option (this is half way down the left hand side of your results)
    • Using the advanced search to specify a time period

What do to if you get too few results?

If you get too few results you may want to broaden your topic by:

  • Make sure that you have included all the relevant synonyms and check that you have used OR between the synonyms
  • Check your spellings
  • Think of the broader topic of which your subject is a part e.g. a broader topic than human rights of children in war might be childrens rights.     This may involve removing search terms from your search string or using a broader term. Although the items you find may be too broad for your topic, some of them may have more specific chapters which are relevant.

Browsing the A-Z of Subjects

Browsingteh subjects A-Z is a powerful way of finding items on a particular topic and can uncover items which you would not have found through a title keyword search (for example where the title is not useful in describing the content of the book or other item).

The subjects A-Z uses the official Library of Congress Subject Headings. Items that are added to the Libraries are given one or more Library of Congress Subject Heading to describe their subject coverage.  This means that when you choose a Library of Congress subject heading from the subject browse list you will see a number of items on the particular topic irrespective of their title.

In addition browsing the Library of Congress subject heading will allow you to see how the subject is organised into broader and more specific topics (for an example see the screen shot below)

However, please note

  • It is likely that you will need to choose multiple entries in the subjects A-Z to find all the items associated with a particular subject.
  • Some Library of Congress subject heading use unexpected vocabulary. For example, films are listed as motion pictures.  For this reason it is often most effective to "discover" the most relevant subject headings for your topic using the "one good item method". 

SOLO screen shot showing browse by subject


Using one relevant item to find other items on the same topic ("one good record")

Once you have found an item on your topic you can use it to find other similar titles which may be useful to your research. There are two main ways of doing this:

  1. Use Subject Headings to initiate a subject search in SOLO.
  2. Use the Browse Related Titles option (this is a more serendipitous option and does not return comprehensive results)

Using Subject Heading to find similar items

Using Subject heading can be a powerful way of finding items which are relevant to you in SOLO.

1.  Click Details & Links

Screen shot of details tab showing subject headings

2.  Scroll down to find the Subjects section. This lists the subjects associated with the item.    The subjects are drawn from a classified list called The Library of Congress Subject Headings and are assigned to each item when it is added to the Library.    To find other items on the same subject simply click on one of the links.  This will initiate a new subject search in SOLO for you chosen topic. Please note

  • Most books will have more than one subject heading but you can only click on one link at a time. In order to carry out a thorough search you may need to repeat the process for each relevant subject heading
  • You can also use the subject headings to "guess" what the subject headings might be for a related subject. For example, in the screen shot above the first subject heading is "Public opinion - - Great Britain --20th century".  From this, you might guess that the same subject for France might be "Public opinion - - France --20th century" or the subject heading for the 19th century might be "Public opinion - - Great Britain --19th century"
  • It is also possible to browse Library of Congress subject headings.  This can be a very effective way of exploring a topic. For more information see Browsing SOLO indexes

Finding similar titles using the Browse Related Titles option

The Browse Related Titles option displays a selection of titles which are similar to your original resource.  This is a more serendipitous approach to finding related items which is a bit like browsing library shelves. 

Screen shot showing Browse Related Titles option

Please note:

  • Browse Related Titles is NOT comprehensive as it only covers a small part of Oxford's book collections. 
  • Occasionally the search may return items which do not appear to be related to your search.  

Refining your results

You can narrow down your list of results using the options that run down the left hand side of your results list. These allow you to restrict your search to Online or Physical items only or to refine your search by limiting your results by Topic, Library, Language, Creation Date (i.e. publication date), Creator (authors) or Resource type (e.g. book, audio visual).   

For each category (for example Topic or Library) SOLO displays a small number of options.  Clicking on one of these will narrow down your results list accordingly.  However, for a wider range of options click Refine Further. This will display the full list of options, allow you to select more than one option at a time and enable you to refine your search by excluding items as well as including them.

Including and Excluding

If you choose to include an option, your results list will be refined so that it only includes items that meet your criteria. For example, if you searched for "veterinary medicine" and chose the include option "cats" you would only see items in your results list that relate to cats. When using the include options, it is important to think carefully about alternative words that may be used. For example if you are interested in veterinary medicine for cats, it is worth clicking the include option for "pets" and "domestic animals" as well as cats to be sure that you cover everything that is relevant.

You may also use the refine options to exclude particular criteria.   This will remove items with the topics or other refinements that you have chosen.     For example in a search for "veterinary medicine" excluding "zoo animals", "agriculture" and "livestock" will ensure that items on these topics will not appear in your results. However, you should always be careful when using exclude options.    For example, if you are interested in cats, excluding dogs would be unwise because many books cover both cats and dogs.     When you exclude an option this will always override anything that you have included, so even if you have ticked to include cats, if you've excluded dogs, you will not see items which are about both cats and dogs!

It is particularly important to avoid using the "Exclude" option when refining by Library.   This is because if an item is held in a number of libraries and you choose to exclude one of them, you will not see the item at all, even though it is also available in other libraries that you have chosen to include.  For example, if you choose to include the English Faculty Library but to exclude the Bodleian, all items which are held by the Bodleian will be excluded (even if they are also held in the English Faculty Library).  To refine your search by library you are advised to use the “include” option but not “exclude”.

Removing refinements

Once you have applied a refinement to your search, the refinement will be displayed at the top of the results. If you decide that you don’t want the refinement to apply, click on the cross next to it.

Re-sorting your results

Your search results will be sorted by relevance.  You can change the sort order to date-newest, date-oldest, author, title or popularity using the Sorted by menu above your search results.

SOLO screen shot showing sort options

Viewing and choosing different versions of a work

SOLO attempts to bring different "versions" of the same work together.  For example, it will try to bring together different editions of the same work and also editions in different formats (for example print, electronic and audio-video).  For example, in the screen shot below, SOLO has found 60 editions of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.

When SOLO has grouped items together in this way, you will see the note Multiple versions found. To view the versions click view all n versions

 SOLO screen shot showing versions

When you click "view all n versions" you will see a list of items.  By default these items will be sorted by relevance.   If you are looking for the most recent or oldest edition of a text please change the sort order to Date-newest or Date-oldest.  However, if you are looking for a specific edition (for example with a particular editor, translator, publisher or date) it is usually best to keep the sort order set to relevance

Looking for a specific edition within a large set of versions

If you are looking for a specific edition (for example with a particular editor, translator, publisher or date):

1.  Ensure that the additional information is included in the search box. For example, if you were searching for the edition of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility, edited by Edward Copeland, you would need to include Copeland in the search as follows:

SOLO screen shot showing searching for a specific edition by adding the editor's name

2.  When viewing the set of versions make sure that the sort order is set to relevance. This will ensure that the items which most closely match you search criteria (i.e. those edited by Copeland) appear at the top of your results and that other editions which do not include all of your search criteria sink to the bottom. If you change the sort order, this advantage will be lost and the Copeland edition may well appear in the middle of your results.

 SOLO screen shot showing sorting versions by relevance to ensure best result comes to the top of the list

Finding out which libraries hold a physical/printed book

To find out which Libraries hold a physical item click Find & Request.

You will see a list of Libraries that hold the item.  

  • Click on the + next to a library to check availability and to see the shelfmark
  • Click on the i button next to a library to view information about the library such as opening times and to find out whether you are entitled to use the library or not.

Screen shot of SOLO showing find and request options
In some cases, you may find that the item is kept in the Closed Stack.    Where this is the case you will need to order the item to be delivered to a library or reading room for you to read. To do this place a Hold. To learn more about placing a Hold see Requesting items from the closed stacks

Connecting to an e-book

To connect to an e-book click View Online.

SOLO screen shot showing "View online" to connect to an ebook

In nearly all cases you will then be taken directly to the e-book.  The functionality available to you within the e-book will vary depending on the supplier and format. For guidance in this area please see the e-books guide.