Build a Search Strategy

After exploring background information to learn more about your topic and generating keywords, ask yourself the following:

  • What new keywords or questions did you come up with?
  • What new vocabulary or jargon did you learn in the encyclopedias or other readings?

This information will be the basis for your search strategy.  Your search strategy will change and evolve as you begin searching in the databases, even once you start reading the articles you find.  Before writing out your strategy, keep in mind the following:

Avoid full sentences in your search

Think short and concise. Use a single word or a phrase to describe what you mean. Successful search strategies are composed of two or more ideas or concepts

Keep expanding your list of related terms

There’s usually more than one way to describe a topic or subject, such as,

    • Global Warming, Climate Change
    • Latino/Latina, Hispanic, Chicano/Chicana, Mexican American, Central American
    • Alzheimer’s, memory loss, amnesia

When one word doesn’t work when you’re searching, you can simply replace it in your search strategy with another one. The more terms you come up with for each concept/idea, the easier your search will go.

Add a focus to your Topic

As a search strategy, Global Warming as a search term is too general and broad. We recommend you focus on one aspect of a phenomenon, such as,

    • Global Warming and Developing Countries
    • Health Care Reform and Unemployed
    • Memory loss and aging

Boolean Operators and Truncation

These are an essential part of the search strategy to help you turn your question into a search statement. The advantage is that you can add them to your search to see more or fewer results.

    • AND – Goes between your words or phrases
    • OR – Goes between synonyms
    • “*” – Goes after a word to capture multiple endings, for example Unemploy* would give you Unemployed and Unemployment

Once you work out some of the previous issues, your search statement will be easier to piece together. A search statement should look like:

  (Concept 1)   AND   (Concept 2a OR Concept 2b OR Concept 2c)    AND    (Concept 3)  AND  (so on) 

For example: (memory loss OR Alzheimer’s OR amnesia) AND (aging OR elderly OR seniors)

Put your synonyms in parentheses with the word OR between them.  The database then only needs to match one of your synonyms when searching.  In the example above, the results could be about “elderly memory loss” or “amnesia of aging people” or “seniors with Alzheimer’s”.  As you learn more about your topic, you will likely change your keywords over time.  Searching is an iterative process that will constantly evolve as you move forward with your research.

Helpful Tools

Build a Search Strategy Worksheet – created by R. Maniates, Yale-NUS College

How to Generate Keywords – from the University of Texas at Austin


Creative Commons Licence
Starting Your Research by University of California Santa Cruz, University Library is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.  Some content has been modified to suit the curricular and research needs of Yale-NUS College.  All changes are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.