Developing a Search Strategy

Use Search Terms to Prepare a Search Statement


getting started search strategy searching evaluate, cite, write

Now that you have a research question, have identified the main concepts, and know what terms you want to use, you are ready to express your research question in a way that a computer database will understand. To do this you will need to construct a search statement or search string.

  • To express relationships among concepts you will need to use Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT)
  • To keep search terms together as a concept you will need to use nesting ( )
  • To retrieve alternate word endings you will need to use truncation *

Here is a sample search statement:

body image AND promotion AND (adolescen* OR teen*)

What follows is an explanation of the elements that make up this search statement:

1. In this search statement we have 3 concepts:

concept 1: body image

concept 2: promotion

concept 3: (adolescen* OR teen*)

2. Notice the AND/AND/OR

These are Boolean Operators. The "ANDs" are telling the database that it must retrieve articles with the specified terms for concept 1 and concept 2 and concept 3. The "OR" is telling the database that, in concept 3, either adolescen* or teen* or both these terms are acceptable in the search results.


AND: all of the search terms must be present in the search results

OR: any or all of the search terms must be present in the search results

NOT: excludes search results that contain the specified terms (Use this operator with caution, because if the term is just mentioned in the item, the item will be excluded from your search results)

3. Notice the brackets around (adolescen* OR teen*)

The brackets keep the term adolescen* and the term teen* together in a "nest" so that they are treated as one concept.

Nesting: parentheses (curved brackets) can be used to keep synonyms and related terms together as a concept and to ensure that the database processes the search statement correctly. If you do not "nest" your search terms properly you will end up with an inaccurate search.

4. Notice the asterisk (*) symbols: (adolescen* OR teen*)

The asterisk after the term adolescen* tells the database to retrieve alternate endings such as adolescent/adolescents/adolescence and the asterisk after the term teen* tells the database to retrieve alternate endings such as teen/teens/teenage/teenager/teenagers. This permits you to search on all these variations without having to type them all in.

Truncation: By adding a truncation symbol to the ending of a root word you are able to retrieve both singular and plural forms of the root word as well as other variants in one search. The asterisk (*) is the symbol most commonly used for truncation, but check the database help files because databases vary in the way they handle truncation.

Journal Database Search Forms

Constructing effective search statements takes practice. In addition to providing a basic search box where you can type your search statement in, databases often provide forms that make it a bit easier. These forms are usually found under "guided" or "advanced" search modes. Here's an example:

Research Tip: To improve the effectiveness of your searches try experimenting with different combinations of search terms. It is best to keep your search statements fairly simple. As you use computer databases to search for information on your topic you will likely adjust your search strategy and search statements as you go.

Try developing a concept map and search statements for your research question.


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