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Finding Information: Search strategy

Finding information

Creating a search strategy


There may be times when the keywords you identify from your assignment question do not provide you with relevant or useful resources. You may find that:


  • You're not finding relevant information
  • You're not finding enough information



When this happens, it will be necessary to develop a search strategy to help you find what you need. A good way to develop your search is to think of the key concepts from your topic, identify alternative terms where necessary, then combine these terms with AND and OR

Alternative terms


Authors may use different words to describe the same concept, so the keywords you identify from your assignment question may not be the most appropriate terms to use for searching. When this happens, it's a good idea to identify alternative keywords (also known as similar terms or synonyms). This will broaden your search.



Let's look back at our sample assignment topic: 




Analyse the effect that social media has on body-image in teenagers. In your analysis, provide examples from at least two social media platforms. 


Write a 1500 word essay on the topic. You must cite and reference at least five sources, with at least three of these being scholarly journal articles. All of your texts should be recently published.




From this topic, we identified the following key concepts:

  • Social media
  • Body image
  • Teenagers



Combining your search terms


When searching in the catalogue and databases, you can join your keywords using AND and OR.


  • AND narrows your search, returning results that contain both of your terms. 


  • OR broadens your search, returning results that contain either of your terms. 






Other search tips


You can use these tips in the Library catalogue, databases, or Google to enhance your search. 


  • Phrase searching

Phrase searching means searching for two words or a string of words as an exact phrase. By using this technique you will only retrieve articles where those words appear together in the text. To search for a phrase, add double quotes around the term. For example: "body image".


  • Truncation

The truncation symbol (usually an asterisk *) is useful for finding different endings of a word. It is added after the last common letter of variations. For example, the search term teen* will search for teen, teens, teenager, teenagers.