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Writing your Thesis

Plan Your Search

The Search Process

Subject Support

Planning a Search Strategy

Thinking about what information you need, and how you are going to look for it, before you start your search, can save you a lot of wasted effort.

It can also help you to find more relevant results which can enhance the quality of your assignment or research.

Follow the steps below to create a successful search strategy:

1) Select appropriate information resources to use

Think about what kind of information you need:

  • an overview of a new topic? Encyclopedias or review articles in journals can help.
  • the latest academic research? Recent journal articles will be more up-to-date than books.
  • an historical perspective? Books can set out the development of a subject area.
  • media reports? Newspaper articles present contemporary perspectives.
  • official reports?Irish or international government reports, or those of other organisations such as the United Nations or the National Health Service.

Where should I search?

2) Choose appropriate Keywords

Look at your research topic and identify the key words or phrases. These concepts will be your basic search terms.

3) Synonyms and alternative spelling

Are there other words or phrases which mean the same (e.g. Cancer, Oncology, Neoplasms) or are related to your basic terms? Using a dictionary thesaurus or subject term index ( e.g. MESH) can help with this. Also, think about differences between British and American spellings. e.g. behaviour or behavior; oestrogen or estrogen. Some databases do not search for both spellings automatically.

4) Boolean operators

Use Boolean Operators to combine your search terms logically. The most commonly used operators are AND and OR.

AND will find only references where both your search terms appear e.g. poverty AND teenage crime. This will help to narrow your search down to more relevant items.

OR will find references which contain either one or both terms e.g. teenager OR youth. This will broaden your search and help you find references with synonyms or related terms.


Quick Tips & Shortcuts for Database Searching

Boolean Operators