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Library Skills

Search Strategy

Start by identifying the key concepts in your research question. 

Example research question:

A study of the impact of social media addiction on narcissistic behaviour and self-esteem among students.

Firstly, list the keywords in your research question, for example:

social media addiction narcissistic behaviour self-esteem students

The keywords will be used as search terms on appropriate resources.

Alternative search terms are concepts that are related to the keywords in the research question.  These can be synonyms, or words that are broader or narrower in scope/focus to the initial keywords.

For example:

  • 'Facebook' is narrower in focus than 'social media' but may be useful to include in a search.
  • 'University' is a broader in focus than 'student' but may be useful to include in a search.

Using our research question example, below is a list of alternative search terms for the initial keywords identified.
 

Social media
addiction
narcissistic
behaviour
self-esteem
students
social networking

habit

self-centred

conduct

confidence

undergraduates

Facebook

dependence

self-obsessed

action

self-respect

scholars

Instagram

overuse

self-absorbed

attitude

self-regard

college

Twitter

abuse

conceited

ways self-assurance

university

attachment

egotistical

higher education
obsession

egocentric

vanity

Here is a tutorial on Choosing Keywords

Phrase searching is one of the techniques that can be used to ensure your results are as relevant as possible.  It can be useful if the number of results retrieved is very high and where more than one word forms the search term. 
Place double quotation marks around keywords that are phrases, i.e. two or more words.  For example:

"social media"
"higher education"
"Public health"

However do not overuse phrase searching by placing double quotation marks around sentences, as you will narrow down your search too much and retrieve too few results. 

This is an example where phrase searching is overused: "the impact of social media on narcissistic behaviour". This will instruct the search to find items that match exactly what is within the double quotes.

Truncation and wildcards are search techniques which make a search more effective and efficient.  Using truncation and wildcard symbols allow simultaneously searching for different spellings of a word and various word endings.

Truncation is most often used to simultaneously search for plurals and different but related word endings. 
The truncation symbol is usually the asterisk * and it replaces one or more letters at the end of the search term entered. 

For example, truncating the search term addiction as below, will search for: addict addicts addicted and addiction

addict*


The Wildcard is most often used to search for different spellings of a word and is usually represented by the question mark ? or a hash sign # or sometimes the asterisk *.  The wildcard symbol replaces zero or one letter in the middle of a word. 

For example, placing the wildcard symbol in the correct position as below will search for the English and American spelling: behaviour and behavior.

behavio?r


Here is a tutorial on using Truncation and Wildcards.
NB: Truncation and wildcard symbols vary between databases, check the help pages to establish which to use.

One of the most important aspects of a successful search is the search string.  This means the way in which you combine search terms and 'string' them together. 

To successfully combine search terms together, use 'AND' and 'OR'.

Combine alternative and related search terms together with OR.  For example:

"social media" OR Twitter OR Facebook

This will group all items related to the search terms you have enetered together.

Combine the different concepts together with AND.  For example:

"social media" AND addiction AND narcissistic

Make sure you do not incorrectly use your AND's with your OR's or your results will be affected.

Here is a tutorial on Combining search terms.