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WatPD: Search strategies

Create an effective search strategy

Think of your topic in terms of concepts

  • Create a search strategy by breaking down your research topic into individual concepts
    • The research topic: How can we teach financial literacy to university students?
      • becomes the concepts of teach, financial literacy and students
  • Think of different words to describe each concept (like synonyms):
    • teach can also be thought of as learning or education
    • financial literacy can be phrased as financially literate

Use Boolean operators

  • Use Boolean operators to combine your keywords into a strategy that the search algorithm of the research database can read.
    • eg. using synonyms or like terms: (teach OR learning OR education)
    • eg.combining the concepts (teach OR learning OR education) AND (financial literacy OR financially literate) AND (students)

Special search symbols

  • Some research databases have special symbols that allow you to improve your search strategy
    • eg. (teach* OR learn* OR educat*) AND (“financial literacy” OR “financially literate”) AND (student*)

Background or basic information

  • Need to find background or basic information on a topic from a journal article?
  • Add the term "review" to your search as another concept.
    • Review articles summarize the information known on a topic which make them great for getting started!


("travelling salesman problem" OR tsp) AND review

About Boolean operators and special symbols

Boolean operators


  • Use AND to combine concepts so you can find articles that include all of your words.


  • Use OR to combine synonyms so you can find articles that include any of your words.

Special search symbols


  • Use the * (asterisk) at the end of a root word to find that word and all of its possible endings.
    • For example, searching Canad* will retrieve any articles that contain the words Canada, Canadian or Canadians.
  • This is also called truncation. Be careful! Not all databases use the * (asterisk).

Quotation marks

  • Use " " (quotation marks) to search for a phrase.
  • This ensures you only find articles containing those exact words in that exact order.