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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 min 26 sec

Key points from the video

  • Identify the key concepts (main ideas) in your assignment
  • Check other ways key concepts are described in the literature
  • Create a search by connecting concepts using AND and OR
  • Alter your search strategy as you find more keywords

More help

The rest of this page will outline the three 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 Scholar 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 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

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.

For example:

urban AND planning

urban AND (planning OR design)

"geographical information systems" AND planning

Test your knowledge

The research cycle

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