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Doing Research at the Library of Congress

VI. Related Record Searches

"Related record" searching is another capability of the Web of Science database. To do a related record search, you must first enter the database through either author or keyword searches. Once you have found one or more relevant records via these means, if you then click on the "related records" button the database will show you any other articles in the file that have footnotes in common with your starting-point article. These will not be subsequent articles that cite your starting point (as in a citation search); rather, they will usually be articles written entirely independently of your initial source, which nevertheless have one or more footnotes in common with it. Articles that have shared footnotes, again, are usually "in the same ballpark" in terms of subject focus. Such articles can be either later than, simultaneous to, or earlier in date than the starting-point source. The most important point about related records turned up by such searches is that articles with shared footnotes--which therefore are usually talking about the same subject--may use title (or abstract) keywords for the topic that are entirely different from those used by your initial article.

For example, one researcher interested in "the economics of antiquities looting" found one relevant article that used these keywords in its title; but a related record search, starting from that article, turned up others with titles such as:

"Good Faith Purchasers of Stolen Art"
"Protection of Cultural Property"
"Illicit Trade in Art"
"Statistics, Damned Statistics, and the Antiquities Trade"

None of these article titles had keywords that he thought of in advance; but they were found nonetheless because related record searching circumvents keywords and finds articles with shared footnotes instead.

Similarly, another student was looking for articles on "statement analysis," having to do with the determination of signs of deception in written or oral communications. A keyword search on this phrase led to a good starting-point article; but then a related record search turned up other articles with titles such as:

"Content Analysis"
"Forensic Psychology"
"Assessment of the Credibility of Adult’s Statements"
"Language of Deceit"

Again, related record searching turned up articles whose title keywords could not be specified in advance.

The traditional way to get around keyword variants is via controlled vocabulary subject heading searches; but the newer methods of citation searching and related record searching now provide additional ways to get around the same problem.

Note that "related record" searching in the Web of Science database is not the same as "related subjects" searching that can be done in many (not all) databases in the FirstSearch system, another commercial subscription service. A large number of files in the latter system use controlled subject headings, and the "related subjects" feature is a very useful way to find them. When searching a database such as Readers Guide Abstracts by the keyword phrase "space aliens," for example, you will get many hits. Once you have the list of results retrieved via keywords, you can then click on the "Related Subjects" button near the top of the screen, and the system will show you a ranked list of the subject headings that have been attached to the keyword records you've found. These will be controlled terms such as Aliens (Visitors from space), UFOs, Roswell (N. M.), and SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). The "related subjects" feature is thus, essentially, a way to look quickly at all of the subject headings that appear in the many articles' descriptor fields (which, in journal article databases, are analogous to the subject tracings field in the online book catalog).

Competition among database suppliers is leading other companies to offer related record searching, as in the Web of Science file, in their databases, too; some Cambridge Scientific Abstracts and EBSCOhost databases now have this feature. Others will undoubtedly follow.

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  September 13, 2011
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