Health: Address a topic

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Start <image, public domain>Before you start actually searching for information for your assignment, first:

1. Understand your topic and task
2. Identify main research concepts and alternative terms
3. Connect research concepts to form a search strategy

The video below shows the full process.

1. Understand your topic

You must have a broad understanding of your topic before you can search for information or write your assignment. Consider:

  • Thumbs up <image, public doman>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?

Define terms, get background information

Reference books include encyclopaedias, handbooks, dictionaries, bibliographies and directories. Use them to define terms, or find topic overviews. Find more by searching the library catalogue.

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2. Identify research concepts and alternative terms

Example question: Does an improvement in drinking water quality improve the incidence of cholera in Haiti and Papua New Guinea?

The main concepts in your question form the foundation of your search:

  1. drinking water quality - there are 2 parts to this concept: drinking water AND quality
  2. cholera
  3. Haiti
  4. Papua New Guinea

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

  1. drinking water, potable water
  2. cholera, Vibrio cholerae
  3. Haiti, Hispaniola
  4. Papua New Guinea, Papua Niugini

Also consider:

  • Plurals, different word forms ( drinking vs drinks),
  • Different spellings (Haiti vs Hayti), and hyphenated words (drinking water vs drinking-water)
  • Acronyms (Papua New Guinea vs PNG)

Once you have your list of terms for each concept, you can combine them to create a search strategy.

3. Connect research concepts to form a search strategy

First, simplify your search. Use truncation, wildcards and phrases to cover word variations:


finds unlimited characters after the symbol

must be used at the end of a word/wordstem


finds drink, drinks, drinking etc...


finds zero or one character to replace the symbol

can be used anywhere in a word


finds cholera, cholerae



finds hayti, haiti

   " "

keeps two or more words together in the entered order

"Papua New Guinea"

Now connect your remaining terms using AND, OR.

  • Use OR to connect different terms within the same concept

  • Use AND to connect each concept.

For example:

"drink* water" OR "potable water"
Ha?ti OR Hispaniola
"Papua New Guinea" OR "Papua Niugini"

Need more info? Check out our "How to" guides below.

Next steps

Find Evidence <image, public domain>Now you have finalised your search strategy, you are ready to start finding the evidence. Click the image to learn how.