Personal tools

Smart Searching


Read the research question

Read the research question carefully before you begin a search. Do you understand what the question is asking of you? For example: you need to discuss a topic? Present both sides of an argument? Summarize current thinking? It will be much easier to spot relevant information if you know what you will be using it for.


Identify search terms

Look beyond the words that appear in the research question. Are there sensible synonyms, related concepts, popular authors that might be relevant?

For example, if you are searching for ‘defence’, would ‘military’ or ‘armed forces’ be worth trying?

Pro tip: once you’ve found a relevant result, review which key words and subject terms the author uses. Could any of those help you find more relevant articles?


Limit your search

Often you will be flooded with information. Think about ways to limit the search and make your results more relevant. For example:

  • Can you limit by geography or date?
  • Are some results totally irrelevant? Get rid of them in a database by putting NOT in front of terms you don't want to appear, or - in a web search e.g. tank NOT fish.
  • Narrow your search by asking the database to search just within abstracts or titles rather than the full text.


Common shortcuts

Try using the following shortcuts:

  • Quotation marks: use quotation marks to force words to appear together as a phrase e.g. “change management”
  • stemming/truncation commands e.g. sustain* will look for sustain, sustaining, sustainable etc.
  • AND OR NOT: sometimes called boolean logic, use the words AND OR NOT in your search to combine terms together and widen or narrow a search


Need help with your search? Please contact us.