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Institute for the Study of University Pedagogy

Resources to support research in courses within the Institute for the Study of University Pedagogy.


Constructing your search


When you do research, you are asking complex, specific questions that will not always fit neatly into a Google search box. Just writing your whole research topic into the search box on the Library website or a database like JSTOR will not work!

Fortunately, there are tools available to help you construct powerful searches. Follow the steps below, and you will find better results more quickly.


Find your search terms

Starting with your topic or research question, try to break it down into the basic concepts. What is your research about, using only a few words? 

Chart showing the breakdown of a research question ("Is ethos, pathos, or logos used most effectively in Canadian political discourse about the military") into three concepts: arguments, Canadian politics, and military.


Brainstorm synonyms

This is a good start and will retrieve some good results, but there might be other words used to describe these concepts—and unless you add those words, you will miss out on extra sources!

The next step is to brainstorm synonyms or other words authors might use to describe the same idea:



Arguments rhetoric, thesis, persuasion
Canadian politics (no synonyms required)


There is no limit to how many synonyms you can include, but usually two or three should be enough—writing down all the possible search terms for your topic can be very time-consuming.


Putting it all together

Now, we take our concepts and synonyms and put them into a structure that LibrarySearch or a database can understand. The example below is using the system on the Library website, called LibrarySearch, but you can use the same approach on databases like JSTOR, ProQuest, and more.

To access the Advanced Search, click on the button underneath the main search bar:

IMAGE: Screenshot showing the Advanced Search button underneath the LibrarySearch search bar.


Then, we are going to group our concepts and synonyms in the advanced search interface.

The structure of an advanced search, grouping concepts and their synonyms together with the OR command and connecting concepts with the AND command.


Here are some tips when using Advanced Search:

  • Keep each of your concepts to one line. You can add more rows for additional concepts.
  • Use OR between synonyms to retrieve results that include any one of them.
  • You can change the search to find words appearing in different fields, like Title or Subject.
  • Limit your search to specific types of resources (like books or articles) and specify a publication date range.

Here's what our search above would look like as an advanced search:

Screenshot of an advanced search in LibrarySearch.



LibrarySearch search results page, showing 65,100 results.


What's next?

We still have a lot of resources here, so the next step is to filter our results. Check out the Filtering section for tips on narrowing your results to the most relevant sources!