Environmental and Geospatial Sciences: Plan search

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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

   Key points from the video
  • 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
  • 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

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

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

Step 2

   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 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

   Test your knowledge

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 use "quotation marks" to keep phrases together and (brackets) to keep synonyms together.

   Test your knowledge

Step 4

You also need to understand the requirements of your assignment. The Student Engagement Unit has created a suite of resources called Study Help that can help you understand different assignment types.

Have a look at:

Final Step: Choose what to use

   Evaluate your resources

While you are finding references, you need to think about whether they are appropriate to use in your assignment.  You may be asked to use Scholarly or Peer Reviewed material to support your arguments. 

You should evaluate all resources  before including them in your assignment - even if you found them through the Library Catalogue or Databases.

 Video Length: 3:16

   Key points from the video
  • 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
Currency How current does the information need to be? Do you need to use information published in the last five years or are older, seminal works fine to use?
Relevance Does the information found answer your question? Do you understand the content and is it at the right level for your purpose?
Authority What are the author's qualifications? Are they linked to a particular organisation such as a university, research institute or government department
Accuracy Is evidence given for the research undertaken? Can you verify the information presented by using other sources? Is there a bibliography or references given?
Purpose Is it trying to communicate research, persuade you or sell you something? It is expressing an opinion, or is it balanced and objective?
   Read: Critically analysing a website