Before searching literature in databases, you need to formulate a search query based on your research topic. A search query is the translation of your research topic into searchable keywords and phrases that can be used in databases and Google to search. In the next few pages we outline steps for constructing this type of search and list common search techniques.
This sounds obvious, but to begin searching you should be clear about the topic of your assignment or project.
If this is for an assessment, ensure you read your assessment instructions carefully. You may already have received a topic, a statement or clues for search terms to guide your search.
Write down a summary of your topic and check that it's clear and focused. This will help guide you in the sort of information you are looking for.
Highlight, underline or circle the keywords or main concepts in your summary. These words can help you build your search strategy and set parameters.
Authors will use different terminology for the same concept so it's important to think of alternative words for each of your concepts. These can be synonyms, related words, abbreviations, acronyms and other words that are specific to your topic.
For synonyms, refer to a thesaurus (such as https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus) and see what other words could be used.
Doing this will ensure that you don't miss out on any useful articles that you might otherwise miss if you only use one or two search terms.
Use Boolean operators AND OR, NOT to combine these terms into a meaningful search. See example under Formulating a search query
These operators are a means of combining search terms to broaden or narrow search results. Terms can be searched in the full text of the document or limited to fields in the item's record, such as title of article, title of journal, author, keywords or subject headings
AND Use the AND search operator to retrieve documents that contain both of the specified search terms. Both terms have to appear in either the full text or record fields depending where you are searching
OR Use the OR search operator to retrieve documents that contain one or both specified search terms
NOT Use the NOT search operator to retrieve documents that do not contact the specified term. For example, a full text search for apples NOT bananas will find documents in that mention apples but not bananas