Developing a Search Strategy
Break the Research Question Down into Concept Blocks
|getting started||search strategy||searching||evaluate, cite, write|
Once you have settled on a research question you will need to break the question down into the main concepts or ideas that it contains. You will later use these concepts when you search library resources.
Our sample research question can be broken down into 3 main concepts:
How can a healthy body image be promoted to adolescent girls?
Search Vocabulary: synonyms and related terms
Because different words can be used to describe these concepts, we need to think of what synonyms and/or related terms might be useful in searching for materials. This is important because a computer database will search and retrieve articles containing the words you've typed in, but it will not understand the context of your topic, the meaning of the words, or how they fit together.
Sources for locating search terms:
It helps to record your concepts and their associated search vocabulary in a table or "concept map".
Note the following in our concept map:
This concept map does not include gender. Gender could be incorporated into concept 3 (e.g. adolescent girls, teenage girls) or added as a fourth concept (girls, female, women). If our searches retrieve too many items dealing with the body image of adolescent boys we will want to include gender in the search because we are seeking information about adolescent girls.
Terms describing eating disorders are included with the idea that an article dealing with the topic of healthy body image may discuss its opposite.
We could add a concept for race and/or sexuality to consider social factors. For example, if we wanted information on the promotion of healthy body image to First Nations adolescent girls, to limit the search to that group we would need an additional concept for First Nations.
As you can see, many variations are possible and determining an appropriate search vocabulary is much more an art than a science.
Research tip: It is generally best to avoid searching for too many concepts at once because this can lead to complicated search statements that fail to retrieve relevant items. It can also narrow your search too much from the beginning and cause you to miss out on articles that might be useful.
Think about your research question--what are the main concepts? What synonyms and related terms can be used as search terms?