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GGRA02: Geographies of Global Processes

This guide will assist students in GGRA02 with exploring academic integrity and finding relevant resources for their research essay.

Writing Effective Search Strategies

Before you begin, read your research question/assignment. If you have any questions, be sure to ask your instructor or TA before you begin your research.

Example research topic: the causes of the global food crisis.

  Why? How? Example
Step 1: Identify key concepts Key concepts from your research question are the most effective search terms to quickly locate relevant sources.
  • Underline key nouns from your research question
  • Identify the people, place(s), era, and/or idea(s) in your research question
How have commodities prices contributed to the global food crisis?
Step 2: Identify alternative search terms To find everything relevant to your topic in a database. Brainstorm alternatives (synonyms, alternative spelling) for your key concepts.

Commodities prices:

  • Commodities, agricultural products, food products, fuel, energy
  • Prices, cost, inflation, consumer price index
  • Retail, retailers, small retailers, big box stores, chain

Global food crisis:

  • Food crisis, food crises, world food crisis, food insecurity
  • Access to food, food supply, food shortage(s)
  • Hunger, starvation, famine
  • Food system(s)
  • Food riot(s), food rebellion(s)
Step 3: Consider using limiters (available in a library database) In order to focus on articles that are appropriate for your assignment. Choose limiters in a library database that are relevant to your research needs.
  • Scholarly or peer reviewed
  • Format: e.g. newspaper, magazine, scholarly journal
  • Publication date
Step 4: Combine your search terms In order to get more focused results, use Boolean operators (and, or) as well as the wildcard* to combine key concepts.

And: Combines key concepts together to find articles that contain both concepts.

Or: Combines alternative search terms to find articles that contain either/any concept.

Wildcard*: Finds variations in spelling, prefixes, and suffixes (commodit* will find commodity or commodities, cris*s will find crisis or crises)

Quotation marks: searches for word or phrase as a unit (preserves word order)

(world OR global)


("food cris*s" OR "food insecurity" OR "food shortage" OR hunger OR starvation OR famine)


(commodit* or price or cost or inflation)

Step 5: Review your search results Check if articles are appropriate for your assignment to ensure you find the right information to write a high quality paper.

Check if you articles are:

  • Relevant to your topic and discipline
  • Scholarly
  • Your article was published in an academic journal, not a newspaper or magazine
Step 6: Adjust your strategy If you don't find relevant articles, change your search strategy.

Too few articles? Try...

  • Adding more synonyms or related terms 
  • Using the wildcard*
  • Deleting the least relevant term from your search

Too many articles? Try...

  • Focusing on a specific component of the topic
  • Adding more keywords

Too few articles? Try...

  • Combining synonyms or related terms with OR


Too many articles? Try...

  • Combining additional keywords with AND

Adapted from The University of Manchester Library: Making Your Search Work (Cheat Sheet)