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GGRC26: Geographies of Environmental Governance

This guide will help you find scholarly sources to support your annotated bibliography and final research paper.

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: the reversal of the flow of oil in the Enbridge Line 9 pipleline.

  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. Reversal of the flow of oil in the Enbridge Line 9 pipeline.
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: pipeline flow

  • reversal, reverse, reversed, reversing
  • switch
  • direction

Key concept 2: Enbridge

  • Enbridge Inc.
  • Enbridge Pipelines Inc.

Key concept 3: Line 9 pipeline

  • Line 9, Line 9b
  • Sarnia-Montreal pipeline, Sarnia to Montreal pipeline, Sarnia, Montreal
  • Oil pipeline, petroleum pipeline
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
  • Format: e.g. newspaper, magazine, scholarly journal
  • 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)

("line 9" OR "line 9b" OR "sarnia-montreal" OR "sarnia to montreal" OR sarnia OR montreal)






(revers* OR switch OR direction)

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
  • 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...

  • Search for a similar project or conflict
  • Searching about the same place or location
  • Searching for the population, groups, or environment affected

Example: oil pipelines, pipeline projects in eastern Canada, the effect of pipeline projects on Indigenous peoples

Too many articles? Try...

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

Example: environmental implications of line 9 reversal, infringement on Indigenous rights in the line 9 project

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

Example Search Strategy: Fairy Creek