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HLTD21: Health Equity, Anti-Black Racism and the Art of Health Promotion

Fall 2021 - Professor Notisha Massaquoi

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.

  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 (e.g., people, places, time periods, ideas, issues). What disparities in healthcare have Black coronavirus patients experienced?
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: Black patients

  • race
  • race factors
  • Black
  • African-Canadian(s)
  • African Canadian(s)
  • African-Americans
  • African American(s)

Key concept 2: coronavirus

  • coronavirus
  • corona virus
  • COVID19
  • COVID-19
  • COVID 19
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • 2019 pandemic

Key concept 3: disparities in health care

  • health equity
  • health inequity / inequities
  • healthcare disparity / disparities
  • health status disparity / disparities
  • differences
  • bias
Step 3: 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.

Not: excludes articles that contain the search terms from the search results

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)

(race OR Black OR "African Canadian*" OR African-Canadian* OR African-American* OR African-Americans)


(coronavirus OR "corona virus" OR COVID* OR SARS-CoV-2 OR pandemic*)


(equit* OR inequit* OR disparit* OR difference* OR bias)

Step 4: Apply limiters 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
  • Journal article
  • Publication date
  • Language
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
  • Popular or scholarly (depending on whether you're working on the first or second annotation assignment)
  • 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
  • Checking for alternative spellings
  • Using the wildcard* to detect plural or variant forms of your search terms

Too many articles? Try...

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

Too few articles? Try...

  • Adding the names of particular health outcomes, in addition to general terms like health inequities
  • Expanding the search to racial differences or racism in healthcare during the pandemic
  • Using broader terms like BIPOC or minority / minorities

Too many articles? Try...

  • Searching for articles about a specific geographic area
  • Narrowing your search to a specific aspect of health status disparities
  • Focusing on a particular theory that explains the racial disparities
  • Considering the intersection of race and another characteristic

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

Search Strategy Tutorials

Choosing Keywords

Transcript (PDF)

Boolean Operators

Transcript (PDF)

Boolean Modifiers

Transcript (PDF)