This is the "Developing a Search Strategy" page of the "AU Library's Guide to the Research Process" guide.
Alternate Page for Screenreader Users
Skip to Page Navigation
Skip to Page Content

This guide will help you learn about the research process.
Last Updated: Aug 6, 2015 URL: http://libguides.athabascau.ca/researchprocess Print Guide RSS Updates

Developing a Search Strategy Print Page
  Search: 
 
 

Developing a Search Strategy

search strategy is what you use to search for information in the journal databases, on the web, and in Library catalogues. Formulating a search strategy requires you to analyze your research question in order to isolate the major concepts, and then develop a search query based on those concepts. In other words, you will determine what search terms you want to search for and then plan how you will search for that information.

Begin by examining your research question to determine the major concepts in it. These terms will form the basis of your search. For example, if your research question is: "What are the methods of treating autism in children, and how effective are they?" the major concepts in the sentence are: treating, autism, children, and effective. Now you can develop these concepts into search terms that you can use do develop your search strategy.

These concepts may be described by a variety of terms, so you should think of all possible synonyms for them. For example, children and youth are two different words that are used to describe a similar concept (human beings who are under the age of 18). If you only entered the term "children" into a search of a database, then you would miss all the articles that deal with "youth". In order to maximise the number of hits you will get in a search, you need to include synonyms in your search. A thesaurus like the Oxford Paperback Thesaurus may be useful to you in finding synonyms. Here is a list of possible synonyms of the concepts we identified in our autism search:

Treating

Children

Autism

Effective

Treatment

Child

 

Effectiveness

Cure

Youth

 

Helpful

Heal

Infants

 

Usefull

Therapy

Teenagers

 

Valuable

Rehabilitation

Kids

 

Successful


After you have completed your list of synonyms, take a look at it and weed out the ones that do not quite match your topic. Based on your preliminary research, you have determined that autism cannot be "cured" or "healed" or "rehabilitated" so you can eliminate those terms. Also you determined that you are mainly interested in autism in young children aged 0 - 6, so you can eliminate any synonyms related to older children. Finally, you want to evaluate whether autism treatments lead to a significant improvement in the lives of autistic children, so you only want information about "effective" or "successful" treatments that use an objective measure. Your synonym list will now look like the following:

Treating

Children

Autism

Effective

Treatment

Child

Effectiveness

Cure

Youth

Helpful

Heal

Infants

Useful

Therapy

Teenagers

Valuable

Rehabilitation

Kids

Successful


Now you can begin to map your search strategy. Most databases allow you to search for multiple terms in one search, rather than searching them separately. This is done using Boolean operators. There are 3 Boolean operators that you should be aware of: AND, OR, and NOT. The AND operator allows you combine 2 or more different concepts into one search.

To search for two subjects, use the AND operator.

E.g. autism AND children

Your results list will include only those items where both subjects are present.

The OR operator allows you to search for 2 or more synonyms.

E.g. children OR infants

All results will contain either, or both of these terms within them.

The NOT operator allows you to search for one concept and exclude another.

E.g. autism NOT mental retardation

This search will retrieve materials that contain the word autism, but not mental retardation.

Here is a sample search strategy. First we will consider the synonyms and combine them using the OR operator:

               Treating OR treatment OR therapy

               Children OR child OR infants OR kids

               Autism

               Effective OR effectiveness OR successful

Now we can combine our search terms into one search statement using the AND operator:

               (Treating OR treatment OR therapy) AND
               (Children OR child OR infants OR kids) AND
               Autism AND
               (Effective OR effectiveness OR successful)

Notice that we have put parentheses around the terms that we have OR'd. This is a process called NESTING and its function is to tell the database that the terms within the parentheses are the same concept. When the database reads this search strategy it will see

               (Concept 1) and (Concept 2) and Concept 3 and (Concept 4)

Since there are no synonyms for autism, there is no need to enclose the term in parentheses.

At this point, our search strategy is complete and we can apply it to a database.

 

Research Tip

When constructing a search strategy, be careful using the NOT operator. The term is exclusive, meaning that it can potentially eliminate useful items from your search. For example, if an article on the treatment of autism in children even mentions mental retardation, this result will not be retrieved.

Athabasca University Library
Hours: Monday-Friday 8:30am-4:30pm (MT)
Phone: (800) 788-9041, ext. 6254
email: library@athabascau.ca

Description

Loading  Loading...

Tip