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Developing a Search Strategy

A search strategy is a plan that helps you look for the information you need:

  • Identify the key concepts in your research topic.
  • Determine synonyms or alternative terms for these concepts, if needed.
  • Use Boolean Operators to combine your search terms: if you want to find the intersection of two search terms, use the  AND operator. If you want to look for synonyms for search terms, use the OR operator. If you want to exclude a particular term, you can use the NOT operator.

Use the Boolean operators AND, OR, NOT to combine search terms:

  • Refine or limit your search to publication dates, population study groups, peer-reviewed journals, etc., as appropriate to your topic.
  • Practice helps. Strategies and styles will differ according to personal choice and professional discipline.



The Boolean Machine - A tool for visualizing the effects of Boolean operators on keyword searches. It was created to teach the importance of Boolean operators in effective search strategies. Click on the image below to see how it works.



Searching Tips

  • You will probably need to check several databases in order to locate the best information on your topic.
  • Reading the abstract of an article (a summary of the article's objectives, findings, conclusions) is key to determining if this is an article that will help your research.
  • Many databases provide the full-text of articles in HTML (web page format) or PDF (document image format, like a photo of the journal page). Some databases provide only citations and abstracts (the author, article title, journal name, volume, issue, page numbers). You may see "Connect to Article" or "Linked Full Text" to find that article in another database in full-text. If that doesn't work, request the article through Interlibrary Borrowing.