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Search Stratgies

On this page:

  • Overview of the search process
  • How to develop keywords and synonyms for a given topic or question 
  • How to develop a search command using Boolean operators

Ask yourself:

  • Am I able to describe my topic using different combinations of words?
  • How can I change my search to get more results? Fewer results? 
  • Are my search strategies leading to results that are relevant to my topic and assignment? 

See also: Topic Development and Find Sources

The Search Process

Graphic depicting the Search Process: 1.	Construct a search strategy: a.	Define your topic. b.	Identify keywords and phrases related to your topic. c.	Brainstorm alternative keywords: different spellings, related terms, broader terms, or narrower terms. d.	Identify subject areas which your topic might fall under. 2.	Test your search: a.	Test out your keywords or phrases in the relevant databases. b.	Not coming up with anything? Try the alternate keywords you brainstormed.  c.	Or use the following tricks to refine your search: i.	Phrase searching: “flea collar”. ii.	Boolean operators: AND, OR, NOT. 3.	Refine your search: a.	Once you find a book or article that is on target, use it to help further refine your search, or to locate potential new sources: i.	Use the Subject line in records to link to other books or articles on the same subject. ii.	Look at the reference list to find other books or articles.

Use key terms

Jot down the main terms that relate to your research question. Include terms that are broader or narrower than your topic. These terms are called key terms (or keywords), and they are the words you will use when you search for sources. It is helpful to keep track of these in your notes and add terms that work well to your list as you come upon them in your research.

Example research question: How can companion animals improve health?

Key terms: pets, pet therapy, companion animals, therapeutic use, health, health benefits, chronic illness

For complicated or more involved research, it may be helpful to organize and keep track of your terms in a chart:

An image of a grid depicting an example of keywords and related concepts: 1.	Use the top row for main themes or concepts: a.	The themes in the top row include: Companion Animals, Health, Therapy, and Improve. 2.	Fill in the columns with related synonyms or concepts: a.	The column under Companion Animals includes the related concept: Pets. b.	The column under Health includes the related concepts: Health Benefits, Wellness, Wellbeing, and Chronic Illness. c.	The column under Therapy includes the related concepts: Pet Therapy, and Therapeutic Use. d.	The column under Improve includes the related concepts: Benefit and Impact.


Brainstorming Keywords

It's helpful to have a variety of keywords to choose from, so you can adjust your search until you find results that match your topic. Being able to search for synonyms and related terms, as well as knowing how to search for broader or narrower terms, will increase your chances of finding an appropriate set of relevant results. 

Example Keyword: Orca  
Narrower term: Juvenile Orca, Broader term: Whale, Similar term: Killer Whale, Related term: Marine Biology

A graphic depicting different types of keywords: Title: Using Different Types of Keywords: 1.	Narrow Terms to find more specific information. 2.	Broad Terms to find more general information. 3.	Similar Terms to make sure you’re thinking of synonyms. 4.	Related Terms to find information on related topics.

Boolean Operators

Think about different ways to combine your search terms. Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) can be used to target specific results, expand findings, and exclude irrelevant concepts. 

Example: Video games AND (Teenagers or Adolescents) NOT Children - this search will bring up any results that include both "video games" and "teenagers", as well as any results that include both "video games" and "adolescents", while excluding any results that include the word "children". 

A graphic defining Boolean operators and providing examples of their use: Title: Boolean Operators. Using Boolean Operators when searching will provide better, and more accurate, results.  1.	AND: a.	Retrieves articles that contain ALL the terms.  b.	NARROWS down the search. c.	Examples: i.	“child obesity” AND Maryland. ii.	“video games” AND Teens. 2.	OR: a.	Retrieves articles with ANY of the terms. b.	BROADENS the search. c.	Examples: i.	Obesity OR overweight. ii.	Children OR juveniles. 3.	NOT: a.	Eliminates articles containing the SECOND term. b.	NARROWS the search. c.	Examples: i.	Depression AND teens NOT adults. ii.	“Video games” AND teenagers NOT children.  Copyright 2015 PGCC Library