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Plan your search

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 min 26 sec

  • 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]

The rest of this page will outline the key steps for planning your search as discussed in this video: identify keywords, consider alternative keywords, and connect your keywords.

Step 1

   Identify keywords

Typing your question into Google or the Library Catalogue 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 are the words which give meaning to the question, the main ideas
  • 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 2

   Consider alternative keywords

To cover the range of terminology used in the literature, you must also identify any synonyms or similar keywords for each concept.

Also consider:

  • Plurals, different word forms (artist vs artists)
  • Different spellings (jewellery vs jewelry),
  • Hyphenated words (postmodernism vs post modernism)
  • Acronyms or Abbreviations  (art vs artworks)

Try doing the following to help you understand your keywords and find similar or alternative keywords:

  • Use the course readings, an encyclopedia, dictionary, or reliable websites to understand your topic
  • 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
  • Create a mindmap or table to help you brainstorm alternative keywords'

Grove Art Online

Oxford Art Online offers access to the most authoritative, inclusive, and easily searchable online art resources available today. Through a single gateway, users can access and cross-search Oxford’s art reference work collections including:

  • Grove art dictionary
  • Benezit Dictionary of Artists
  • Encyclopedia of Aesthetics
  • The Oxford Companion to Western Art
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Art Terms

Step 3

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

Remember to group words in "quotation marks" to keep phrases together.

For example:


   Test your knowledge

The research cycle

Remember, searching is not a linear process.  You may change your search as you discover more information.