I need to teach a quick lesson on e-journal searching, e.g. to search for one item, excluding certain terms, or another item.
What is the most common query language that students will most likely encounter?
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Academic databases are built for people who have no idea what a 'query language' is. I agree that the world would be a much better place if everyone knew a little bit of SQL, but it's not like that.
Every other academic database that I have worked with uses custom-made input masks where you can select manually fields to search on and logical operators; they look like this example, again from Zentralblatt.