Skip to Main Content

Plan your search

Study help: plan your search video

Planning your search is key to getting the most out of your search results. The following video will help you get started.

Video Length: 2:26

  • Searching for your whole assignment is not very effective
  • Identify the key concepts in your question or topic
  • Think about what other words (similar words or alternative terms) might be used to describe the key concepts
  • Connect your concepts using AND and OR
  • You can change your search as you find more information

Read: How to plan your search [pdf]

Step 1: understand your topic

Understand your topic

Use the course readings, an encyclopedia, dictionary or reliable websites to understand your topic. Consider:

  • What do you need to do?
  • What do you know? Or need to explore further?
  • Do you need to define any terms?
  • What types of evidence do you need?
  • Does information need to be current?
  • Do any theories apply to your topic?
  • Do you need facts and figures, or statistics?

Useful guidelines

Step 2: identity keywords

Identify keywords

Typing your question into Google or the Library Collection is not the best way to search.

Mapping out your search can be a good place to start:

  • Identify the keywords (also known as key concepts) in the assignment question - these form the foundation of your search
  • Remove task words (also known as instruction words) from your assignment question - these are the words telling you what to do with the key concepts (e.g. analyse, compare, discuss)


Test your knowledge

Can you find the keywords in the activities below? 

Step 3: consider alternative keywords

Consider alternative keywords

Now you've identified the keywords in your assignment question, try doing the following to help you understand your keywords and find similar or alternative keywords:

  • Use a thesaurus to help you find similar or alternative keywords
  • Do some basic initial searching using the keywords you've already identified to see what other words are used in the papers you find

Also consider:

  • Plurals, different word forms (identity vs identities)
  • Different spellings (labour vs labor, and hyphenated words (self-identity vs self identity)
  • Acronyms or Abbreviations (United States of America vs US vs USA)

Create a mindmap or table to help you brainstorm alternative keywords


Test your knowledge

Step 4: connect your keywords

Connect your keywords

Once you have identified your keywords and found alternative keywords, you need to connect these to put your search together.

Use the following operator words, which most search tools will have, to indicate how you want the tool to search for your keywords:

  • OR: connects similar keywords
  • AND: connects different keywords
  • NOT: Excludes words from the search (use cautiously and only when necessary or you might exclude results you actually want)

Remember to use "quotation marks" to keep phrases together.

For example:

"First Nations" AND health

(Aboriginal OR Indigenous OR “traditional owners” OR “first nations”) AND water AND (governance OR ownership OR tenure OR title OR claim)

Aboriginal AND (“fire management” OR “burning practice” OR “savanna burning”)

Test your knowledge