Search Strategies

Watch this video to help you with search strategies for various databases:

Step 1: Write your topic out in sentence or question form

  • How do Canadian social workers treat teenage drug abuse?

Step 2: Break your topic sentence up into main ideas or keywords

  • Canada, social work, teenage, drug abuse

Step 3: Think of synonyms or alternate words to describe each concept

  • teenage - juvenile, youth

Tip: Use dictionaries, encyclopedias, or a thesaurus to find 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.
  • Canada AND social work AND teenage AND drug abuse
  • (teenage OR youth OR juvenile) - Note: OR terms must be bracketed.

Step 5: Add wildcards to search for all possible word endings

  • A wildcard is usually represented by a *.  This is also called truncation.
  • (teenage* OR youth OR juvenile*) AND Canad* AND drug abuse

Step 6: Consider Key Phrase searching

Some databases search each word separately.  To ensure that your words are evaluated as a key phrase, enclose them in double quotation marks.

  • "drug abuse"

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 (find fewer):

  • Add another concept or idea to your search with AND
  • Use more specific words ('poodle' instead of 'dog').
Content last reviewed: May 28, 2020