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Search the literature: Plan your search

Develop a search strategy

Developing a robust search strategy will help reduce irrelevant results. You should plan a strategy before you commence searching. However, you will find this strategy progresses over time.


1. Identify key terms
  • Break the topic into the main concepts; these will translate into keywords.
  • Think of synonyms or alternative terms for the keywords.
  • Use truncation (* or ?) to catch all forms of a word, eg. educat* (for further information see Improve your search)


2. Combine using Boolean operators
  • Link keywords using AND to find documents containing all the keywords.
  • Link synonyms with OR to find any of the alternative terms.
  • Use NOT to exclude terms from the search.

A short introduction to Boolean operators created by Lincoln Memorial University.


3. Refine search
  • For too many results, limit search by adding more keywords linked by AND.
  • Use more specific keywords, or search specific fields (e.g. terms in title).
  • Limit your search by year, article type, peer-reviewed, language etc.
  • If there are few relevant results, include more alternative terms with OR.
  • Look at the subject terms for a relevant item for links to similar resources


You may also like to view Improve your search for further information. If you require assistance in planning a search strategy, request a consultation with your Faculty Librarian.


Record your search

Keep a record of the search terms used, the databases searched and the number of results retrieved. This will:
  • identify the most relevant search terms
  • avoid duplicating searches in the same database
A recorded search strategy can be a requirement when publishing your research:
  • predominantly when writing reviews in the health sciences
  • the search strategy is included as part of the article
  • the criteria used to evaluate articles for inclusion is also included
This article is an example of one that includes a search strategy in the appendix (see page 103).

To help you record your search, you may wish to use this blank template. This sample form demonstrates how you might complete the template.

Plan your search

DSC08519 by Crystal Campbell 

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