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Search strategy worksheet

Search strategy worksheet

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Step 1

When looking for sources on a topic for an assignment, you will need to search by keyword. This applies to searching Summon, the Library catalogue, the web, or a database. Do not search for the full assignment title - it gives you rubbish results!

  • Write down your title or topic (as a question)


Step 2

Identify the key ideas from your title or topic, and note them down as keywords or phrases.

Key idea 1Key idea 2Key idea 3
--- --- ---

Step 3

Find alternative words or phrases to describe your key ideas: authors might not use the same words as you!

  • Take keywords from reading list books; the Previews information in your initial Summon search results; or a dictionary; thesaurus; or encyclopaedia.
  • Good keywords or phrases name or describe process, places, people, materials, groups, organisations, classes, phenomena, conditions etc.
  • Words that imply the evaluation of these things, such as effectiveness or impact, are often not good keywords.
  • Keywords can be direct equivalents, more specific words, less specific words, or particular places, products, organisations, initials etc.
  • A search for "young people" might use: teen OR teenager OR adolescent OR youth OR child.
  • A search for "UK" might use: United Kingdom OR Britain OR England OR Yorkshire.

Step 4

Write down the different keywords and phrases.

 Key ideaAlternative word or phraseAnother word or phrase
1 --- --- ---
2 --- --- ---
3 --- --- ---

Step 5

Now organise your keywords and phrases in a structures way for searching:

  • AND links different ideas.
  • OR links different ways of describing the same idea.
  • Are there some ideas that might be easiest to search for as phrase? use "quotation marks" to make sure that Summon, the Library catalogue, the web, or a database search for it as a phrase.
  • Are there words which start with the same letters? Use the asterisk (*) to search for these together in Summon, the Library catalogue, and many databases.


communicat* will find 'communicate', 'communicates', 'communication', 'communicating'.

 Key ideaORKey ideaORKey idea
1st key idea --- OR --- OR ---
2nd key idea --- OR --- OR ---
3rd key idea --- OR --- OR ---

Steps 6-9

6. What the question is asking may not be as simple as it first appears. You may need to do more than one search for different parts of the question/topic.

7. Make the keywords work:

Summon and most databases will offer you a form. This is often called 'Advanced Search'.

Most databases will also offer an option, usually called 'Search History', which will allow you to combine and recombine different words and phrases to build up your search. If a word does not work, take it out.

8. Summon and databases offer various limits and filters to improve your search without adding more keywords. Most used are the 'date of publication' (showing recent sources) and 'peer-review only' options.

9. Review your search results as you go along:

Read abstracts to check the relevance of sources, and use keywords from the abstracts of good sources to improve our searchers.