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How to Research: 3. Make a Search Strategy

Make a Search Strategy

Once you have a topic and background knowledge, identify the search ideas. Search ideas describe the main ideas or aspects of your research.

For example, I would like to research the foreign language skills of college students who participate in study abroad (the search ideas are in bold).

Make a list of connected search ideas with their synonyms. Why? It helps to find books and articles that use different words to talk about the same thing.

How many search ideas do you need?

Typically, two to three. For newer or rarer topics, one might be enough. For broader topics, four might be needed.

Synonyms Search idea 1 OR Synonym 1 ...
Join AND      
Synonyms Search idea 2 OR Synonym 2 ...

Start with a few terms and leave space (going across) for more synonyms as you research.

So, for my example of researching the foreign language skills of college students who participate in study abroad programs, my search strategy would look like this.

Synonyms “foreign study” OR “study abroad” OR ...
Join AND        
Synonyms “college students” OR “higher education” OR ...
Join AND        
Synonyms “foreign language” OR “second languages” OR ...

Please note that if you have a search phrase, like “foreign study,” it must be in quotes so that the words are searched together in that order.

Your turn!

Example 1

Research question: How have Shakespearean plays been adapted for film?

Synonyms "Shakespearean plays" OR Shakespeare OR  
Join AND        
Synonyms adaptation OR "modern version" OR adapted
Join AND        
Synonyms film OR movie OR "motion picture"

Example 2

Research question: What is currently being done to help conserve the endangered Giant Panda population?

Synonyms conserve OR preserve OR protect
Join AND        
Synonyms "giant panda" OR panda OR "Ailuropoda melanoleuca"
Join AND        
Synonyms   OR   OR  

Example 3

Research question: What effect does the use of alcoholic beverages have on the health of college students?

Synonyms alcohol OR liquor OR "adult beverage"
Join AND        
Synonyms health OR well-being OR welfare
Join AND        
Synonyms "college students" OR "university students" OR