Search Strategies

There is no one way of searching for sources for your papers: A good searcher will use many ways and will use an iterative approach. Here are a few strategies:

  • Look for known authors: if you had a  course reading, or found an article or book on your topic, it is likely that the author has written other books, articles, reports... on a similar topic, so try searching by author name
  • Use bibliographies/reference lists: The sources listed at the end of articles, book chapters, encycopedia entries can all be rich sources of material on your topic.
  • Pay attention to vocabulary: sometimes having the right words is all that is needed to focus in on sources for your assignments. You need to use the same words the authors did to find what they wrote, which sometimes means learning specialized vocabulary for a discipline. Reading widely, and paying attention to course readings can often help. So can browsing general sources like encyclopedias (yes, even wikipedia) and paying attention to WORDS.
  • Search relevant databases: while searching vast, multidisciplinary collections like Summon can find you sources, sometimes searching in a discipline specific database like LLBA, or ERIC, or Sociological Abstracts can give more focus to searches and provide specialized search features NOT available in more general databases
  • Do more than one search
    • the results of one search could turn up key words you didn't think of before, so ahead and re-try using the new vocabulary.
    • If you are struggling to find sources on your specific topic it can be a good idea to try a more general search or try breaking up your search

      Example: Let's say your are looking for sources about sign language education in universities in Nigeria.

      • You do one search using the keywords YOU thought of and you might turn up an article that uses the word "higher education" in the abstract. You should spot that and realize that there may be other sources out there that used THAT term and maybe didn't use the word "university", so you try another search.
      • You may also decide to go more general: rather than just search for "Nigeria", you could try a search for "Africa".
      • As well, you may still find SOME useful information by splitting your search, and trying to find a) sources that talk about sign language education in universities in general or b) sign language in Nigeria or c) Nigerian universities in general.
  • Use standard search syntax (common to just about ALL databases)
    •  Use the * at the root of words so you can find all forms of a word: universit* will find either university OR universities
    • Use " " for searching a phrase.  "sign language"
    • Use Boolean search options, such as AND , OR so you can combine everything into one search :
      "sign language" AND (universit* OR "higher education") AND (africa* OR nigeria*)
  • Familiarize yourself with WHAT you are searching: just because there is a search box on a page does NOT mean that what gets search behind that box is the same.
    • Are you searching a full-text database or one that just includes title/abstract/keywords?
    • What dates are covered by the database?
    • What disciplines/subject area does it cover?
    • What kind of sources are covered? Books? journal articles? theses? newspapers? magazine articles? ...
Content last updated: November 16, 2014