Search Strategies

Develop a list of keywords

1. Identify important concepts.

If you’re not sure what the important concepts in your research question or topic are, write out your question or summarize your topic in a sentence or two. Then cross out the small or unnecessary words. For example:

Do video games cause violent behavior in teens?

Do video games cause violent behavior in teens?

This should make it easier to identify the main words and concepts. Make sure each concept is short and to the point. Sometimes you may need to rephrase some of the words in your question to be more succinct. “Violent behavior” is a better phrase than “act violently towards others” when it comes to searching in library databases.

Your research question or topic will usually have 2-3 main concepts. In this case, we have video games, violent behavior, and teens.

2. Think of synonyms, broader terms, narrower terms, and/or related terms.

You want to identify other words or phrases that scholars and researchers could have used to write or talk about your concept. For example:

Video games – gaming, computer games, Grand Theft Auto

Violent behavior – violence, aggression, bullying

Teens – teenagers, juveniles, youth, adolescents

Academic language can be very different from everyday/conversational language. Make sure to think of specialized vocabulary that you’ve learned in class or seen in your textbooks. If you’re not familiar with a concept or topic, consult an encyclopedia or other reference source for ideas and background information.

Once you start finding relevant information on your topic, pay attention to the terminology being used by the writers and add those words to your keyword list.

Create search statements using common search tools

1. Use Boolean operators — AND, OR, NOT — to combine search terms.

AND is used to connect *different* ideas. Using AND will narrow a search. Example: [ video games AND violence ]

OR is used to connect *similar or related* ideas. Using OR will broaden a search. Example: [ violence OR aggression ]

NOT can be used when a word has multiple unrelated meanings. This is a tricky one! Example: [ Portland NOT Oregon ] (if you were looking for information on Portland, Maine)

Nesting is when you use parentheses with AND/OR/NOT to keep certain search terms together. Here’s an example:

Video games AND (violence OR aggression)

In the example above, the parentheses keeps “violence” and “aggression” together as a group. If you remember algebra, in this search statement, “Video games” will be distributed to the words in the parentheses.

Video games AND (violence OR aggression) = video games AND violence as well as video games AND aggression

2. Use the truncation symbol — usually an asterisk (*) — to search for different words with the same root/beginning.

[ Aggress* ] will search for aggression, aggressive, aggressiveness, and so on.

3. Use quotation marks to search for an exact phrase.

If you have a search term or concept that contains multiple words, putting quotations around them will tell the database to search for them as an exact phrase. For example:

“video games”

Identify relevant subject areas

Think about who is likely to be writing or doing research on your topic. What discipline or subject area would they be in? The library has research guides with subject-specific resources, so identifying relevant fields of study will help you choose the right place to search for information.

The research question “Do video games cause violent behavior in teens?” would likely be explored by scholars and researchers in fields that include Psychology, Education, and Communications.

If your topic covers multiple subject areas, a good starting point would be one of our interdisciplinary databases, such as Academic Search Premier, JSTOR, or Research Library Complete.

Example Search

Research Question: Do video games cause violent behavior in teens?

Search Statement: “video games” AND (teen* OR adolescen*) AND (violen* OR aggress*)

Database: Academic Search Premier (click the link to see the search results)