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Information Literacy Guide

Learn all about different sources of information

Planning Your Search

Search Strategy

In an academic university context, search strategy refers to the systematic approach used to locate and retrieve relevant information from various academic sources such as scholarly journals, books, databases, and other resources. Developing an effective search strategy is crucial for students, researchers, and academics as it helps in conducting comprehensive literature reviews, gathering evidence for research papers, and staying updated with the latest developments in a particular field of study.

Here are key components and steps to consider when devising a search strategy within an academic context:

  1. Define Your Research Question or Topic: Clearly articulate your research question or topic of interest. This will guide your search and help in identifying keywords and concepts to use in your search strategy.

  2. Identify Keywords and Synonyms: Mindmap and compile a list of relevant keywords, phrases, and synonyms related to your topic. Consider alternate terms and variations that authors might use when writing about the subject.

  3. Utilise Boolean Operators: Employ Boolean operators such as AND, OR, NOT to refine and narrow down your search. For instance, using "AND" between keywords will retrieve articles that contain both terms, while "OR" will broaden the search by retrieving articles containing either term.

  4. Use Truncation and Wildcards: Employ truncation () or wildcards (?) to capture variations of a word or to account for different word endings. For example, using "comput" will retrieve results containing "computer," "computing," "computation," etc.

  5. Select Appropriate Databases and Resources: Choose relevant academic databases (e.g., PubMed, JSTOR, IEEE Xplore, Scopus) and library catalogues that are appropriate for your discipline. Each database may specialise in certain types of publications (journals, books, conference proceedings) or specific subject areas.

  6. Apply Filters and Limiters: Use filters and limiters provided by databases to refine your search results by publication date, type of publication, language, peer-review status, etc.

  7. Review Search Results and Refine: Evaluate the search results obtained and refine your search strategy if needed. Look for additional keywords or concepts that could enhance your search.

  8. Keep Records and Document Search Strategies: Maintain records of your search strategy, including the databases used, keywords, filters applied, and search results obtained. This helps in replicating the search and citing sources correctly.

  9. Stay Updated: Regularly revisit and update your search strategy as your research progresses or as new information becomes available. This ensures that you're considering the most current literature.

  10. Consult with Librarians or Subject Experts: Seek guidance from librarians or subject experts within your university who can offer valuable advice on refining your search strategy and accessing specialised resources.

By employing a systematic and structured search strategy, individuals within an academic university context can efficiently locate relevant information, critically evaluate scholarly materials, and contribute to the existing body of knowledge within their respective fields of study.

Boolean Operators

What is the Boolean Machine?

The Boolean Machine is a tool for visualizing the effects of Boolean operators on keyword searches. It was created to teach the importance of Boolean operators in effective search strategies. It uses a ven diagram and different colours to indicate how the different Boolean operators work.

Advanced Search Strategy factsheet