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Building a Library Research Strategy: Search Strategies

This guide will help students develop a research strategy for finding information for papers or projects.

Search Terms & Research Questions

Part of creating a search strategy means having strong keywords, search terms, and/or a good research question. Why does this matter?

  • Good search terms will help you get better quality results in a shorter period of time. 
  • A strong research question will often help you get deeper and more relevant results.

Starting a Simple Search / Pre-research using a keyword


  1. Try typing a keyword into one or a few different databases. 
  2. Use your results to help you locate better or different search terms or to dig deeper using the filters on the results page.
  3. Search databases here:   A-Z Databases List
  4. Click for a tutorial on Building a Search Strategy

Search using a Research Question


If you are working with developing a research question, you can use your question to establish your search terms by pulling out the important concepts.

Some reminders:
*Look at the boxes on this page for "search t
ips" on using truncation, quotation marks, etc.
ost databases allow you to filter by dates so they might not be needed in your initial search. 

The following are some examples:

1. QUESTION: What was the impact of The Great Depression on government policies in the 1930's and 1940's?
Your search might look like this: Great Depression AND "government policies" AND 1930-1940

2. QUESTION: In what ways can cyberbullies be effectively prosecuted?

Your search might look like this: Cyberbull* AND prosecut*

3. QUESTION: What are the current advantages and disadvantages of religious influence on education in the United States?

> Your search might look like this: Relig* AND education AND United States

4. QUESTION: What are the impacts of student debt on young adults in the United States

> Your search might look like this: Student debt OR College debt AND "young adults" AND United States OR USA

Search Term Worksheet

You can use this worksheet to organize your terms. (see the PDF link below)Search Worksheet

Where do I look?

Where you look depends on the kinds of information you need. This chart helps to illustrate how information is created and produced. It can help determine where you'll go for the information you need. It's a good idea to develop a strategy that includes multiple types of sources.Chart showing spectrum of information on the internet versus library databases

Information to the left of the dotted line:

The information to the left of the dotted line is information found on the Internet, which includes Wikipedia, online news sources and broadcast media. This information is produced quickly; sometimes daily, hourly, or second to second. 

Information to the right of the dotted line:

The information to the right of the dotted line includes information in electronic formats (found online) or in print formats. These types of information include books, scholarly journals, encyclopedia articles, and raw data. These information types can take up to months or years to produce. They cannot always be found on the free web (like in a Google search), but can be found through the library

SEARCH TIP: What is Boolean Searching (Using AND, OR, NOT)?

Boolean searching is fancy name for using the words AND,OR, NOT to connect important concepts in your search to make it more accurate and efficient.

The following are some examples:

  • Using AND makes a search more specific > Global warming AND sea level rise
  • Using OR provides options for terms > Young adults OR teenagers AND anxiety
  • Using NOT eliminates the terms you don't want > Addiction AND opioids NOT alcohol

Here is a visual example as a Venn diagram:

Tutorial: Developing Keywords and Search Terms

Before getting started, watch this short video about choosing and creating good keywords to help you search more efficiently.

Tutorial: Developing a Research Question

This video is part of a series created for students enrolled in a ENG 102 course at NKU. This video is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License 

SEARCH TIP: What is * Truncation?

  1. Truncation allows you to use a "wild card" option for the ending of your terms.
  2. By adding an asterisk  * after the root word means you are asking the database to search for any possible ending after the asterisk.
  3. Using truncation will help locate more results, or "broaden", the choice of articles on your topic.

For example:

  • architect* = searches for architecture, architect
  • nurs* = searches for nurse, nurses, nursing
  • addict* = searches for addict, addiction, addictive

SEARCH TIP: Using quotation marks

  • Use "quotation marks" around phrases to help the database search more accurately.
  • By using quotation marks you are asking to only search those words together and not separately.

For example:  "factory farms", "industrial waste", "young adults", "service animals", "social media"

Tutorial Links

Find SVC Research Strategy tutorials here:

Find related one-minute tutorials here (login with MySVC/Canvas username and password):

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