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HLTB40: Health Policy and Health Systems

Fall 2021 - Professor Jessica Bytautas

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: wait times for treatment in the Canadian healthcare system.

  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. Wait times for in the Canadian healthcare system.
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.

Key concept 1: wait times

  • Waiting period
  • Waiting lists
  • Time factors
  • Efficiency
  • Health care access

Key concept 2: Canadian 

  • Canada, Canadian, Canadians

Key concept 3: healthcare system

  • Health care
  • Medical care
  • Hospitals
  • Emergency services
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
  • 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 (revers* will find reverse, reversal, reversing, etc.)

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

("wait time" OR "waiting period" OR "waiting list")




(healthcare OR "health care" OR "medical care")

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
  • Current enough (publication year)
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 (combine with OR)
  • Deleting the least relevant term from your search
  • Using the wildcard*

Too many articles? Try...

  • Focusing on a specific component of the topic
  • Adding more keywords (combine with AND)

Too few articles? Try...

  • Searching for a broader issue
  • Search for a similar issue or initiative in a different location or with a different group

Too many articles? Try...

  • Limiting the search to a specific population, group, or phenomena
  • Looking at your topic in a specific location or region

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