Constructing a search strategy
A strategy involves making specific plans designed to achieve specific results. In the world of research, any time you search a database you're creating what's called a search strategy: a set of terms stated in such a way that the computer retrieves items on a specific topic. Search strategies can be as simple as entering a keyword or as complex as using Boolean operators, truncation, controlled vocabulary, or fielded searches and limits. Simple or complex, search strategies are all about making the computer understand exactly what you're looking for.
Before you search a database, it's best to brainstorm for keywords that describe your topic. One easy way to do this is to phrase your topic as a question, then identify keywords from the question. For example, if you are trying to do research on the relationship between body image and eating disorders, you might write the following question:
In the above example, the keywords are circled in red. These keywords are the basis for your search strategy.
We all know that computers can't think and don't understand written English. Computers understand their own "language" and when you're searching databases, it's important to phrase your searches so that the computer understands. The next sections explain how to translate these keywords into a search expression the computer can work with by using Boolean operators and truncation symbols. You might also want to look at the next two sections of this tutorial on focusing your results with vocabulary lists and using advanced search techniques to learn more about creating effective search strategies.
While there are some search features common to almost all databases, like Boolean operators and truncation symbols, most databases also have unique search features. The best way learn about these features is to take some time to explore the "help" section of the database you're in. Help sections provide valuable insight for getting successful results.
For additional assistance, see our Help with the online/fulltext databases page.
In the next section we'll discuss ways to combine more than one keyword in a search strategy.