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Research skills tutorial

Step 2 - Develop a search strategy

An effective search strategy helps you find the specific information you need.

In Step 1, you defined your information need by analysing the task, identifying keywords and brainstorming alternative words.

Now you need to create your search strategy.  A search strategy is a plan for how you will combine your keywords to create an effective search, usually in an Advanced Search.

Selected keywords + Search boosters = Search strategy

Search Boosters

An Advanced Search helps you refine your search to find highly relevant information, whereas a Basic Search may find more results, but they may not be relevant.

In an Advanced Search, you combine your keywords with search boosters to either widen (find more) or narrow (find fewer) the search results.

These boosters include Boolean operators, truncation, wildcards, phrase searching, and nesting.

Boolean Operators: AND, OR, NOT

Boolean Operators: AND, OR, NOT

Place a Boolean operator (AND, OR, NOT) between your keywords to include or exclude keywords in a search.

The yellow shaded area of the image shows the refined results.

AND will find results where both words appear, and gives the fewest results.
e.g. chocolate AND happy

OR will find results where either word appears, and gives the most results.
e.g. happy OR fulfilment

NOT will exclude a word from a search, giving a refined search.
e.g. chocolate NOT obesity

The word after "NOT" will be the word excluded from the search.

Phrase seraching

You can search for a phrase, rather than individual words, to narrow your search results.

Use quotation marks around the phrase, placing the words in the correct order.
e.g. "Mars bar" rather than Mars bar or "bar mars"

Use this booster carefully, as it can omit results that could have been useful.

Phrase searching

Truncation & Wildcards

These boosters both widen your search results, and use punctuation characters (asterisk and question mark) from your keyboard.

Truncation: enjoy* = enjoy, enjoys, enjoyment, enjoying, enjoyable

Wildcard: organi?e = organise, organize

More Tools

Fields examplesYou can select where to search for your keywords (field searching):

  • Author
  • Title
  • Abstract (highly recommended)
  • Subject (only for database-specified subject searches)
  • Publisher or Journal or Source
  • All Text or Full Text (will search the entire article, and may find your keywords in a reference list)
  • Anywhere (will search all fields listed above)

Search options

An Advanced Search includes limiters, (tick box or drop down menu), that let you to limit your search by:

  • Full Text
  • Peer Reviewed articles
  • Scholarly or Academic articles
  • Date range
  • Language
  • Location

Most databases provide a Help Tool or Search Tips.


Brackets let you use more than one search booster to create a meaningful search, like this:

(happiness OR enjoy* OR fulfilment) AND (chocolate NOT obesity) AND ("Mars bar")

Learn about more search boosters

Create a search

Now look at your keywords, and work out which search boosters to use with each keyword, and create your own search. Generally you will use:

  • AND with your main topic keywords
  • OR with alternative keywords
  • NOT with antonyms or limiting words
  • Truncation * to find alternative endings to words
  • Wildcards ? for variations in spelling
  • Phrase searching " " for specific phrases
  • Brackets to combine various search boosters within a single search, usually for highly specific searches.

Search the Abstract field for your keywords, and select peer reviewed or scholarly articles as required.

Learn more about creating your search


Back to Step 1 - Analyse the task

Example of Step 2

Go to Step 3 - Credible sources

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