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Higher Degree Research (Faculty of Business, Justice, Behavioural Sciences): Search strategies

A guide to support Higher Degree Research candidates with preparation of Research Proposal and Draft Literature Review for RES701, RES702 and RES703

What is a search strategy?

Searching databases in a consistent, structured manner will save you time. As your searching progresses and your searches are refined, your search history can be extremely useful.  It can also improve the relevancy of results obtained, as you reflect on your keywords and synonyms and how these influence your search results.

To develop a search strategy you will need to:

  • define and write down your research question - what is it that you are going to research?
  • identify, and keep a record of key words, terms and phrases
    • brainstorming your main discussion points to create concept/mind maps can help tease out themes and keywords
  • identify keyword synonyms, use database Thesauri or Subject Headings;
  • determine a timeframe from your research, if needed
  • consider what type of material you will include and why
  • identify where you will search for the information

Keeping a record of your search activity

Good search practice could involve keeping a search diary or document detailing your search activities, so that you can keep track of effective search terms, or to help others to reproduce your steps and get the same results. 

This record could be a document, table or spreadsheet with:

  • The names of the sources you search and which provider you accessed them through - eg Emerald, EBSCO Academic Search Complete. You should also include any other literature sources you used.
  • The search strategies that you applied when searching different sources can be added as an appendix to your document. This provides additional detail on:
    • how you searched (keyword and/or subject headings)
    • which search terms you used (which words and phrases)
    • any search techniques you employed (truncation, adjacency, etc)
    • how you combined your search terms (AND/OR). The Library's Database Help guide has more tips on Boolean Searching.
  • The number of search results from each source and each strategy used.  This can be the evidence you need to prove a gap in the literature, and confirms the importance of your research question.

A search planner may help you to organise you thoughts prior to conducting your search. If you have any problems with organising your thoughts prior, during and after searching please contact your Library Faculty Team  for individual help.

Phelps, R., Fisher, K. & Ellis, A. (2007). Effective literature searching. In Organizing and managing your research (pp. 128-149). SAGE Publications Ltd. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781849209540.n7

From research question to search strategy

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