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Creating a search strategy

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Catherine Hartley

on 26 February 2014

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Transcript of Creating a search strategy

Creating a search strategy
example question
"My research is focused on urban
planning and sustainability"
But we need to think about...
make a list of your terms...
If you are new to creating a search strategy and want to go through the process together
come and find me
at the library desk or
e-mail me
(catherine.hartley@st-annes.ox.ac.uk) and we can arrange a time to meet.
Identifying your key terms
break down

your research question into

key topics

you will use these topics to form your
search strategy
We can easily identify
'urban planning'


as the key topics
related terms
alternative spellings

broader and/or narrower terms
e.g. American spellings
urban city town regional
now it's time to connect...
use the
connector to combine your synonyms -> this will create a set
planning design* build* architect*
sustain* eco* environment*
Set 1 OR OR OR
Set 2 OR OR OR
Set 3 OR OR
enclose each set in parentheses
( )
( )
( )

notice the wildcard
truncating some of the terms?

use this to include plurals and other variations of words

e.g. environment
will retrieve environments, environmental, environmentally, environmentalist...
enter the sets of search terms into the database one at a time,
checking the results that are retrieved each time.
once you've done this combine the sets with

Set 4
set 1


set 2
Set 5
set 2


set 3
continue doing this until you have covered all possible combinations.
We all love Google but do you ever get the feeling that it's letting you down when you're searching for academic information?
Feel like your missing out on important articles?
Then maybe it's time to get strategic and explore some academic databases...
This simple guide will take you through the basics of creating a search strategy to help you find the most relevant information on
academic databases
This is what it looks like when you put your search strategy
into the
advanced search
on a real database...
Once you've searched for each of
your initial sets (#1,2,3) you
combine them by ticking the boxes
on the left. This will then enable you
to use the 'combine selections with'
option at the bottom and click the

Notice how we still have 4522 results after all our combining? At this point we could start thinking about
our search terms and using the database's
e.g. year of publication, language etc. Likewise, if we had too few results we would need to think about
our search terms.
Things to bear in mind...
While your basic search strategy can be applied to any database, things such as wildcards and other connectors may vary from database e.g. on Ovid the wildcard symbol is
but on Westlaw UK it is

Some databases may also allow you to search for phrases using
" "
, as well as

having more advanced search operators -> using
+ a number on EBSCO allows you to search for words within a set proximity of each other e.g. '
finds results that would match
'tax reform'
as well as
'reform of income tax'.

If you don't know what search operators your database uses go to the
help section
-> they will always have a list and will often also give you top search tips for getting the best results on their particular database.
If you want more advice on the best databases to use for your topic check out the
for your subject at http://libguides.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/

subject librarian
is also there to give you expert advice about finding
relevant information in your field and will be able to help you with more
advanced database searching. Find out who your subject librarian is at:

Full transcript