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WSTB06 Women in Diaspora

This guide will help you to find the resources needed to complete your research assignments.

Developing Effective Search Strategies

If you are having trouble developing a research topic or understanding your assignment, be sure to ask your instructor or TA before you begin your research.

EXAMPLE RESEARCH TOPIC: Assess the impact that social media has had on victims of sexual assault. Find peer-reviewed journal articles that support your argument.

  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. Assess the impact social media has had on victims of sexual assault
Step 2: Identify alternative search terms To find everything relevant to your topic in a database. Brainstorm alternatives (synonyms, related terms/concepts, alternative spelling) for your key concepts.

Key concept 1: Social media

  • Social network
  • Social networking
  • Twitter

Key concept 2: Victims

  • Survivors

Key concept 3: Sexual assault

  • Rape
  • Sexual violence
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.
  • Peer-reviewed articles
  • Adjust publication date range
Step 4: Combine your search terms In order to get more focused results, use Boolean operators (and, or) as well as the wildcard* and quotation marks " " to combine key concepts.

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

Or: Combine alternative search terms to find articles that contain either concept.

Wildcard*: Finds variations in spelling, prefixes, and suffixes (sexual* will find sexual, sexualized, sexually; violen* will find violence, violent).

Quotation marks " ": Search for the exact phrase within the quotation marks, rather than searching for the words separately.

("social media" OR "social network*" OR twitter OR facebook)


(victims OR survivors)


("sexual assault" OR rape OR "sexual* violen*")

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
  • Peer-reviewed
Step 6: Adjust your strategy If you don't find relevant articles, change your search strategy.

Too few articles? Try...

  • Brainstorming more/better alternative search terms
  • Deleting the least relevant term from your search (if you have multiple terms)
  • Using the wildcard*

Too many articles? Try...

  • More keywords (example: focus on a country/region, time periods, or group of people)

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