Creating a search strategy

Planning a strategy before you actually start the task of searching for articles relevant to your assignment can be a good idea.... By Penny Presta.

Making plans before you go on holiday makes for a smooth trip (and is part of the fun). Planning before you start searching for your assignment is smart too. It can increase the relevance of search results and save you time (leaving more time for fun)! In the Library we call it ‘creating a search strategy’.

What is a search strategy?

A search strategy offers a systematic approach to searching for information. It involves following a few key steps to finding what you need. The good news is these steps are pretty much the same regardless of which assignment you are doing.

Identifying the key concepts

An essential part of starting your search is identifying the best subject terms and keywords. Start brainstorming keywords, followed by compiling a list of synonyms and related terms so that you know you have your topic covered.

Starting out with a broad search

Developing a search strategy is an evolving process. Generally you will start with a broad strategy and look at your initial search results, adjusting your terms as you go along. Your results can be refined by adding parameters to limit the search (such as articles published in the last 10 years or information types such as books and journal articles). 

As you progress in your search for academic materials you will begin to notice alternative subject terms and keywords in article abstracts and start using these for a different set of results.

Look through the Library’s interactive online module for the whole story.

Why bother?

Scholarly sources of information such as library databases don’t like sentences. They perform best with keyword combinations which will be the result of an effective search strategy. So if you’ve ever been overwhelmed by how to find the materials you need, maybe it’s time you adopted this systematic approach.

For assistance creating and refining search strategies, attend a drop-in at your branch’s Research & Learning point. Honours students, postgraduates and academic staff may make a one-on-one appointment with their subject librarian.

Image: CC licence Richard Lee

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  1. Great article Penny - I love the analogy with planning a holiday. Clever!