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Higher Degree Research (Faculty of Business, Justice, Behavioural Sciences): Developing a Search Strategy

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

Common Search Tips

There are a number of techniques you can use while searching to get better and more relevant results.

Basic and advanced search

Basic search usually involves one search box, with a few options about searching a specific collection or field. This is great for general searching. When you have multiple keywords or complex search queries, using Advanced search can be helpful. This usually involves several different boxes for your different keywords, built-in search operators, and more options for field searching and limiters.

Most databases will have a link to Advanced Search next to their Basic search option. Advanced Search in Google Scholar is accessible from the menu.

Search operators

Use these with your keywords to refine your searches and specify exactly what you want to find. These are most useful in journal databases and Primo Search. (Some of them won't work as well in Google Scholar.)

Operator How to use Example
Boolean Use AND to retrieve results that contain both of your search terms. This narrows your results. police AND federal
Boolean Use OR to retrieve results that contain any or all of your search terms. Use this with synonyms or variant terms to expand your results. law OR legislation
Boolean Using NOT to exclude irrelevant results. intelligence NOT artificial
Phrase Use quotation marks to search for a phrase. "climate change"
Truncation Search for terms with different word endings using an asterisk. adapt* = adapts, adapting, adaptable, adaptation...
Wildcards A question mark can be used to replace a single letter within a word analy?e = analyse, analyze

Field searching and limiters

Most databases will allow you to specify which field you want to search. Common fields include author, title, dates, and subject headings/topic, and these are usually available in both basic and advanced search. 

Once you've searched, you can also limit your results by some of these fields. This is extremely useful if you want all of your articles to have been published within a certain date range, or for them all to be peer-reviewed. Look for these in the menus beside your search results. 

Formulating search strings

These techniques can be combined to create a more sophisticated and controlled search strategy. Combining strategies together is called a search string you can see more examples in the following table.

Search Strategy Operators
coastal AND erosion Boolean
"climate change" AND surface AND corrosion Boolean, phrase
(sea wall OR seawall) AND corrosion Boolean, Grouping
"climate change" AND coast* AND (sea wall OR seawall) Boolean, Grouping, Truncation, phrase

Proximity Searching

A proximity search forces a database to find results where one search term appears within a certain number of words of another search term. The proximity operator varies according to the database. 

Examples from an EBSCOhost database:  

employability N3 higher education  (N=near) This will find results where employability is within 3 words of higher education in any order

employability W3 higher education (W=within) This will find results where employability is within 3 words of higher education  in the order in which you entered the search terms

Where to use these search techniques

You can use these strategies in the basic and advanced search boxes in Primo Search and other Library databases. 

  Boolean Truncation Wildcards Phrases Proximity Groups
Google  Yes* NO Yes* YES Yes* YES
Google Scholar Yes* NO Yes* YES Yes* YES
Journal Databases YES YES YES YES YES YES
Yes* = yes it does this but it works differently. The search techniques accepted by each journal database can vary; if in doubt, check a database's help section.


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