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Searching: Search Strategy

Use this guide to learn how to search effectively for information sources


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The ABC of Searching

There is no perfect search strategy and every researcher will adapt processes that will work for him/her. Even so, most strategies will encompass the ABCs:

  • A. Analyze and plan the search question and break it into key concepts/terms.
  • B. Brainstorm and expand these key terms for other relevant subjects/terms.
  • C. Combine key terms into a refined search string using Boolean logic.

A.  Analyze the search question... 

'How do I find materials on gender issues in secondary science education?'

... key terms like gender, science and secondary education can be easily identified and expanded while more analysis is needed on the fuzzy concept of 'issues'

B. Brainstorm the key concepts, gender and science and expand as...

  • gender, sex role, sex stereotypes, boys, girls, males, females
  • science, biology, chemistry, physics

... while 'issues' may be broken down as ...

  • achievement, attainment, failure

C. Combine search terms using Boolean logic-- ANDOR or NOT --to combine keywords. AND limits searches and OR widens searches. 

If you want to include many variations of gender, you will get many more results by using OR as ...

  • gender OR sex role OR sex stereotypes OR boys OR girls OR males OR females

If you have too many results, use AND to limit your search for a final search string like... 

  • biology AND girls AND underachievement AND secondary education

When you have refined your search, consider the who, what where, how when and why:

  • Who is writing? (authenticity, peer-reviewed authors...)
  • Where will you search? (Explore, databases, archives...)
  • How will you search? (keywords, Boolean operators, authors ...)
  • When is your research is due?  (days, weeks, months, years...) 
  • What are your searching for? (books, journal articles...)

Search Tips

Always start your search at the library which will contain the catalogue of library holdings and databases.  

Peer reviewed

Many databases contain  'peer reviewed' or 'scholarly journals'. These journals have been reviewed and assessed by academic experts. Again, you can not rely on this refinement to oncover authortative sources so may also want to modify your search terms to limit your results.

The type of search you use is another way to help you find the most relevant information. When you start searching, you usually have the choice between a Simple and Advanced Search.

Simple Search

A simple search works best with less used words or phrases, like heutagogy.

Broad terms like education or teaching will return thousands of results, many of which will not be relevant to your search.

Advanced Search

Many search engines and databases offer advanced searching that gives you greater flexibility. What options are available and the special symbols used will vary, so you'll always want to start at the HelpHints, or Tips screen.

Some of the most common advanced search techniques are:

  • Narrow or broaden your search using the Boolean operators AND, OR, NOT
  • Search for a specific phrase using speech marks ("history of education")
  • Search for variations of a word (culture, cultural) using * (cultur*)
  • You can limit where your search terms are found (only in the title of the page) to increase the likelihood of their relevance