Once you have chosen a database to search for journal articles on your topic, here are some strategies for creating an effective search:
Step 1: Write your topic out in sentence or question form
How did Aboriginals participate in the fur trade in Canada?
Step 2: Break your topic sentence up into main ideas or keywords
Aboriginals, fur trading, Canada
Step 3: Think of synonyms or alternate words to describe each concept
Aboriginals, natives, First Nations, indigenous
Tip: Use dictionaries, encyclopedias, or a thesaurus to find synonyms (alternate words).
Step 4: Add "Boolean operators" (AND, OR) to make a complete search statement
- Use AND to limit or narrow your search to results that mention all of your keywords.
- Use OR to broaden your search to include synonyms.
Aboriginal AND fur trading AND Canada
Aboriginals OR natives OR Indigenous
Step 5: Add wildcards to search for all possible word endings
A wildcard is usually represented by a *. This is also called truncation.
Aboriginal* OR native*
Step 6: Add quotation marks (if relevant) to search for phrases
A phrase is usually created by "[phrase]".
"climate change" "Cold War" "human rights"
Step 7: Evaluate your results
If you are finding too many or too few results, try these tricks:
To broaden your search (find more):
- Find synonym for each keyword.
- Search for a broader concept (dog instead of poodle).
- Use wildcards/truncation.
To narrow your search (few fewer):
- Add another concept or idea to your search with AND.
- Use more specific words (poodle instead of dog).
- Use a phrase or phrases.
Watch this video on creating a structured search: Search faster, search smarter (University of Sidney)