Constructing a Search Strategy

The following page provides a way for you to plan a search for scholarly literature before jumping into a database. You can also print out this page and use it as a worksheet.

If you have any questions about what a scholarly database is, please check out our What is a Scholarly Database? tutorial.  On the Library Homepage, you can find most of our databases by their respective subjects by clicking on Articles in the top bar, or by selecting "Databases A-Z" from the bottom Articles and Databases menu.


  1. State your research topic as completely as you can.



  2. Re-read your topic above and identify two or three of the most important concepts. Try to condense those concepts into keywords - unique terms that will bring up literature relevant to your search. Avoid commonly-used terms such as "strategies," "effective," and "research," or you will wind up with a results list with every article which uses those words. Stick to keywords that are unique to what you are looking for.

    If you have a term that is more than one word long, put the term in quotation marks. For example, "single parent" will only search for the entire phrase "single parent," or prefer the entire phrase in your results list. Searching for single parent without the quotation marks will often search for every "single" and every "parent," or articles with both terms, but not the phrase. As usual, this all depends on the database you are using.

  3. Write each concept down as concisely as possible. List synonyms or related terms using OR if applicable, because an author may use one and ignore another. If a thesaurus is available for the database you use, bring in appropriate terms from it as well.

  4. First Concept:       _________________ OR _________________ OR _________________

    Second Concept:  _________________ OR _________________ OR _________________

    Third Concept:      _________________ OR _________________ OR _________________

  5. Using AND, OR, and possibly NOT (or others specified by the database you are using), write out the search statements you will enter in order to get relevant literature to your topic:

  6. _____________________  AND  _____________________  AND  _____________________
    _____________________  AND  _____________________  AND  _____________________    

    _____________________  AND  _____________________  AND  _____________________    

    Example: achievement or grades or performance AND children or adolescen* AND "single parent"

  7. Select the database(s) that best cover your topic using our Subject Guides or Course Guides. Write them out here: