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Planning your search

Before you begin looking for resources for your assignment or research, invest some time planning your search strategy. Spending a small amount of time now will save you time and frustration later.

Summarise your question or topic

This sounds obvious, but to begin searching you should be clear about the topic of your research or assignment.

If this is for an assessment, ensure you review your assessment instructions. You may already have received a topic, a statement or clues to guide your search.

So write down your summary and check that it's clear and focused.

Identify the keywords

Now highlight, underline or circle the keywords or main concepts in your summary. These words can help you build your search strategy and set parameters.

Think of similar search words for each concept

These can be synonyms, related words, abbreviations, acronyms and other words that are specific to your topic.

To discover synonyms, refer to a thesaurus (such as and see what other words could be used.

Be clever

Now you have a strong basis for your search, it doesn't stop there.

Use Advanced Search to improve your search strategy. Create clever search strings using symbols and special characters to get better search results! More details about these advanced search techniques are in the section below.

Document your search

This will help you plan your search properly and remember the techniques.

Download the planner below and follow the steps to create your own search strategy.

Search Planner (DOC, 1MB)

Advanced Search Techniques

Create clever searches by adding your key words together to get more relevant results.

Phrase searching narrows a search to show results that contain an exact phrase e.g. "economic development"

To conduct a phrase search, add double quote marks around two or more words you want to search for.

For example: searching for "economic development" will only return records that contain this exact term. The search will not return results where the word 'economic' or 'development' appear alone.

Truncation searching broadens a search to show results that include variations of words.

To conduct a truncation search, use an asterisk character to signify where the variation should exist.

For example, searching for strateg* will return records that contain the words strategy, strategic, strategies, etc.

Truncation can also be useful when spelling variations exist. For example, searching for organi*ation will return records that contain either of these words:  'organisation', 'organization'.

Truncation searching is sometimes referred to as wildcard searching or stemming.

Boolean searching allows you to better target your results by combining keywords with the operators AND, OR, and NOT 

AND between search terms narrows a search to show results containing all terms.

OR between search terms broadens a search to show results containing any term.

NOT narrows a search by excluding results containing specified terms. This should be used with care as it can remove relevant results.

Video: What are boolean operators (1:36)

For further search tips have a look at this video.