Spend some time thinking about your topic before you start searching. Pay particular attention to the language you use to both conceptualize and describe the subject you require information about, and take the time to define key descriptors—this will benefit your thinking, and form the basis for your search strategies.
The following steps may help you formulate a search strategy:
In this example, we will consider the following topic: The effects of pollution on frog reproduction.
|The most useful keywords would be:||The most useful phrases would be:|
|Effects||“effects of pollution”|
|Frog||“breeding cycle of frogs”|
Note: you may find using a thesaurus or a subject dictionary useful at this point, to help expand your selection of possible keywords.
Use of the ‘wildcard’ symbol—commonly represented by a question mark (?)—will search for multiple spellings. For example:
Adding a truncation symbol—commonly an asterisk (*)—after the root of a word will find variations of that word. Truncating words returns variant spellings and endings, and can save you from having to do multiple searches.
Boolean operators let you combine keywords and phrases to retrieve specific search results. They are inserted between your keywords and phrases, and must always appear in UPPER CASE.
Use AND to narrow or focus your search and retrieve records containing only the specified words. For example:
Use OR to broaden your search and retrieve records containing any of the words specified. For example:
If you use the OR operator when searching for acronyms and abbreviations, remember to include the actual term spelt in full as well as the abbreviation. For example:
Use NOT (which sometimes also appears as AND NOT) to narrow your search results and return records that do not contain a specified term. For example:
Use parentheses ( ) to group words and phrases together when combining the OR operator with an AND operator in the same search. This is sometimes referred to as Nesting. For example:
By following the steps above, you should now be able to formulate a sound search strategy (which is also known as a search string). Using the research topic The effects of pollution on frog reproduction your search strategy may look something like:
Remember, there are many different methods you can use to search for the information you need, and the steps outlined above are by no means mandatory. Some search strategies return better results than others so; get expansive with your language, be creative with your search operators and symbols, and don’t hesitate to formulate a number of different strategies in order to see which ones yield the best results.
The broader and more inclusive your search terms are, the more focused and relevant your results will be to the topic you are researching.