Creative Writing and Literature: Plan your search

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Image source: Before you start searching for information take some time to plan. It can save you time and find more relevant information, 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?


John Keogh 'English Dictionaries', CC Licence: CC BY 2.0, Image source: Flickr

Use reference books such as dictionaries and encyclopedias to define terms, or find topic overviews, to become more familiar and locate better resources for your assessments.

See example reference works below:

Library collection


The Library Collection can be a good place to start. Use the Collection to search across much of the material in the Library's collection.

Depending on what you need to find, and how comprehensive you need to be in your search, you may also need to use specialised databases.

2. Identify research concepts and alternative terms

Example question: Why language socialisation is important in a chosen TESOL setting and in what ways does it help/harm learners in the setting?

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

  • language socialisation 
  • learners

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

  • socialisation, language acquisition, language and culture, languages in contact, language maintenance, literacy, language usage, multilingualism, second language learning, English as a second language, children, adults

Also consider:

  •  Plurals, different word forms ( child vs children or learner vs learners)
  •  Different spellings (socialisation vs socialization), and hyphenated words 
  • Acronyms or Abbreviations  (English as a second language vs ESL)

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 learn, learner, learners, learning etc...


finds zero or one character to replace the symbol

can be used anywhere in a word


finds socialisation, socialization

   " "

keeps two or words together in the entered order

"language usage"

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:

(TESOL OR ESL) AND "language sociali?ation" AND learner*

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