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ECO352H5: Special Topics in Economics: The Financial Crisis and the Actions of the Central Banks

Developing a Search Strategy

A search strategy is a way to efficiently find the information you need to answer your research question. Taking time to develop a search strategy will help you work systematically and therefore find relevant information more quickly and consistently from one search tool to another.

The steps to take to develop a search strategy include:

#1 Identifying Key Concepts

Identifying key concepts

The first step in formulating a search strategy is to take your topic and break it into concepts or keywords.

#2 Identifying Similar or Related Terms

Identifying similar or related terms for each concepts

If you are using keyword searching for articles and books, you need to understand that the words you are using to describe your concepts might be different than those used by others. 

Typically, you will need to think about 4 kinds of terms:

  • Synonyms: words that mean the same as your concept term.
  • Broader terms: words that describe the category your concept might belong to.
  • Narrower terms: words that describe a subset of your concept.
  • Related terms: terms that might somehow relate to your concept.

You get at these terms through brainstorming and by paying attention to the research you’ve already conducted – how is your topic and its concepts described? Your keyword list should grow as your research progresses. However, in some cases, not all terms you identify might be useful in the end.

#3 Establishing Relationships Between the Concepts/Keywords

Establishing Relationships Between the Concepts/Keywords

Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) will allow you to form a search string by combining two or more terms together. Parentheses will allow you to group terms together. 

  • AND: narrows a search by finding items that must contain all the terms you have entered. Using AND lets you be more precise by adding additional required concepts. For example: organization AND culture
  • OR broadens a search by finding items that contain either of all of terms you have entered. Using OR makes your search wider by searching for similar and related terms. For example: "organization OR corporate" AND culture
  • NOT narrows a search by finding items that contain one term but not another. Using NOT lets you be more precise by excluding certain terms.
  • Parentheses gives you the ability to group similar or related terms together.
  • Quotation marks are used if you are search for an exact phrase. By using quotation marks, your results will return only items that include those exact terms in that exact order. 

#4 Selecting Appropriate Search Tools/Databases

Selecting Appropriate Search Tools/Databases. At this point, you will need to identify what search tools or databases you will use to find useful items such as books and articles. ‚ÄčIf you have found scholarly books and/or references to scholarly articles in your background research, be sure to revisit those.

Find useful resources for your term paper in the 'Suggested Resources' section of this guide (see menu of the left). 

#5 Testing Your Search Strategy

Testing your Search Strategy. You are now ready to start testing your search strategy using search tools and/or databases you've identified as appropriate for your topic. While each database may look slightly different, the underlying functionality is much the same. If you don't come up with what you're looking right away, start using some of the similar or related terms you have identified. 

6. Refining Your Search

Refining Your Search Strategy. Examine your results and revise your search terms or strategy if necessary. Once you start finding books or articles that are on target, use them to help further refine your search. For example, look at the subject line in records to identify other books or articles on the same subject, or look at the reference list for further relevant research on your topic.