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Resource Guide

Planning your search

Before you begin looking for resources for your assignment or research, focus on planning your search strategy. A small amount of time now will save you time and frustration later. Here are the steps:

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 alternative 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.

Improve your search strategy using special characters and symbols to create clever search strings. There is more detail about these advanced techniques 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

Use these advanced search techniques to improve your search results.

Phrase searching narrows a search to show results that contain an exact phrase.

This is useful when you want to search for a certain string of words.

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

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

Truncation searching broadens a search to show results that include words with variation.

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

Use this when you want to show results that include words with different endings. For example, searching for project* will return records that contain any of these words:  'project', 'projects', 'projection', 'projector', 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 is a type of search that allows users to combine keywords with operators (such as AND, OR, NOT) to produce more relevant results

Using the word AND between two search terms narrows a search to show results containing both terms.

Conversely, using the word OR between two terms broadens a search to show results containing either term.

Using NOT will narrow your search by excluding certain results from your search, however as the video on the next tab shows it should be used with care as this technique can remove relevant results.

Video: What are boolean operators (1:36)


Citation tracking

Citation tracking is used to discover the number of times a particular article has been cited. It can be a useful way to locate additional resources on your topic.

Think about a research article as one element within a larger, ongoing conversation among researchers. That research article represents one researcher’s ideas and findings at a given point in time.

Citation tracking techniques allow you to use that article to trace the timeline of an idea backward and forward in time. In this way you can discover other relevant resources for your research or assignment.

You may already use backward tracking! This is when you review the reference list at the end of an article to find more resources that are relevant to your research topic.

These articles will be older than the article you have in hand. You are using these to look into the past and find sources of information that influenced or contributed to the author’s work in some way.

Some databases and library search tools provide links to resources in article bibliographies. Look for a link to “cited references” or “references”.

Forward tracking allows you to find additional sources on your topic that are newer than the source you start with.

Begin with an article, then use the “cited by” feature of a database. This shows books or articles that have included your original source in their bibliographies.

Using a cited reference search, you can learn how research has been confirmed, improved, corrected, applied, or extended.

Backwards tracking example

Below is a Scopus database search result which shows the "View references" feature highlighted. The researcher can click this link and see the list of references that have contributed to this work.

Search record showing "view references" highlighted

Forward tracking example

Here is a Google Scholar search result with the 'Cited by' element highlighted. The researcher can click on this link to see a list of newer sources that have cited this work.

Google Scholar result with citation highlighted


Engineering search example

Below is an example showing how a researcher has combined boolean, phrase searching and truncation techniques to look for information about 3D printing, biomaterials and metal alloys.

This was created on Deakin Library's Advanced Search screen, but you could implement the same techniques when searching with other tools like Google Scholar or databases.

Click the hotspot icons marked with a question mark (?) to reveal more information about the searching techniques used.

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