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VPHC75 - Artist, Maker, Creator - Doris McCarthy

This guide will assist you in the completion of your assignments related to VPHC75

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 QUESTION: Assess the impact that social media has had on recent outbreaks of civil unrest. Find peer-reviewed journal articles published in the last 5 years.

STEP 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 (for example, people, places, time periods, issues). Assess the impact social media has had on recent outbreaks of civil unrest.
Step 2: Identify alternative search terms To find everything relevant to your topic in a database.

Brainstorm alternatives (like synonyms, related terms, or alternative spellings) for your key concepts.

These will be used as search terms.

Key concept 1: Social media

  • Social network(s)
  • Social networking
  • Twitter

Key concept 2: Civil unrest

  • Conflict
  • Revolution
  • Riot
  • Rioting


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
  • Published in the last 5 years
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: Combine alternative search terms for the same concept to find articles that contain either term.

Wildcard*: Finds variations in spelling, prefixes, and suffixes (riot* will find riot, riots, rioting)

Phrase search " ": enter search terms made up of multiple words in quotation marks to preserve word order ("social media" will look for these two words side by side)

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


("civil unrest" OR conflict OR revolution OR riot*)

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
  • Published in the last 5 years
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)

Too few articles?

  • Incorporate examples of other social media platforms, e.g. Facebook
  • Expand your topic beyond social media to look at the impact of the Internet on civil unrest

Too many articles?

  • Focus on one social media platform
  • Look for articles on specific instances of unrest
  • Narrow your focus to a particular country that experienced a revolution

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