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Library Primer 2.0: Search Strategy

Search Strategy Development

Search strategy development is an important part of research. Just as planning is important before leaving on a trip, developing a search strategy before searching actual databases can help a person arrive at the proper research destination in an efficient and timely manner.

Search Tips

Phrase searching. Enclosing a phrase in quotation marks keeps the words of a phrase together in the search. "global warming"

Truncation. The * symbol allows for retrievals of a words with variant endings. Peace* retrieves peace, peaceful, and peacemaking

Quiz Question

What is the correct truncation for the word educate?

Quiz Question
educate*: 20 votes (29.85%)
educ*: 9 votes (13.43%)
educat*: 32 votes (47.76%)
education*: 6 votes (8.96%)
Total Votes: 67

Boolean Operators

 AND Finds with both terms. Combines concepts and narrows searches.
 OR Finds either term. Searches for related terms and broadens searches.
 NOT Eliminates the term following NOT. Narrows searches. Use sparingly.

Example:  peacemaking AND religion retrieves items with both terms
                peacemaking OR "conflict resolution" retrieves items with either term
                peacemaking NOT religion eliminates items with the term religion

Defining the Topic

Defining a topic is important because an overly broad topic spans too much information and a topic which is too narrow yields insufficient information resources. For example, in the Academic Search Complete database, a search for the topic peace retrieves over 100,000 records, while the narrower topic, peacemaking and religion and Australia retrieves only 5 records.

Additionally, defining a topic is a recurring task throughout the search process. As you find information, you may discover that you need to narrow, broaden, or change the focus of the topic, depending on the type and amount of information available.

To begin defining your topic:

  1. Choose a topic that interests you
  2. Explore the topic's facets by gathering background information from encyclopedias, books, and articles
  3. Choose a facet to focus on


Once you have defined the topic, the next step is to brainstorm for words which relate to the topic. These will be your keywords. An easy way to do this is to identify the different concepts in the topic and then list synonyms or related terms under each concept. For example:

   peacemaking               religion   
   peace building               Christianity
   conflict resolution          God

As the search is refined, some terms may be removed from the list and others added. Commonly used, undescriptive words such as an, the, in, out, off, etc. are not useful. These words are called stop words. Words that apply to many contexts, such as relationship, effect, etc. should also be avoided.