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Research Process: Develop a Search Strategy

Develop a Search Strategy

Having a well-defined research topic is one of the most important parts of the research process. Having some background information on your topic is necessary before beginning your research. Think about what is it you want to explore about your topic. Be sure to consider the length and scope of the assignment when planning your research—make sure you will be able to cover adequately everything in the space the assignment allows.

Identify significant words, or keywords related to your research topic. Try to think of any synonyms and related terms that may be associated with your topic. Use the search techniques detailed on this page—Phrase Searching, Boolean Operators, and Truncation—to combine your keywords into a search strategy.

Boolean Operators: AND, OR, NOT

Boolean Operators are used to connect and define the relationship between your search terms. When searching electronic databases, you can use Boolean operators to either narrow or broaden your search results. The three Boolean operators are AND, OR and NOT.

  • AND narrows (by inclusion) a search, returning only results that contain BOTH sets of terms.
    • zoo AND conservation
  • OR expands a search, returning results that contain either term.
    • law OR legislation
  • NOT narrows (by exclusion) a search, returning only sources that contain the first term and eliminating sources that contain the term following not.
    • zoo NOT aquarium

boolean operator illustration

Image Source:

Phrase Searching

Enclose a phrase or words in double quotations (" ") when exact word order is required. This type of search is one of the most efficient and effective ways to narrow down results. Using this type of search finds sites, titles, and names when all or exact parts are known.

Example: "animal welfare"


Truncation replaces a word ending with a symbol (usually an asterisk *) to search for variant endings of a word root, thus increasing the number of results retrieved.

            Example: ethic* retrieves ethic, ethics, ethical, ethically

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