Search Strategy

Develop a plan

Search Strategy Worksheet (click for PDF)

Once you have designed a research question, it is time to develop a search strategy that you can use when searching for resources.  To do this, first determine the 2-4 main concepts within the research question and separate them with the word "AND".

For example, if my research question is "Does music therapy help autistic children improve their communication skills?", the main concepts would be the following:


As you can see, I have put quotes around "music therapy".  This informs the database I am searching in that I want resources about music therapy specifically and not general information on "music" and "therapy".

Once you have your main concepts, start to brainstorm synonyms that the database may be using instead.  Put the synonyms in the same line, but separate them with the word "OR". My search strategy will then look something like this:

The database you are searching in may give you one search box or multiple boxes.   If you have multiple boxes, you can input your search terms as shown above. If you have a single search box, write your search terms like this: ("music therapy" OR music) AND autism AND (children OR kids OR youth) AND (communication OR articulation OR speech).  

As you can see, I have put the synonyms, separated by the word OR, in parenthesis to keep them together.

If you do not want to search all the synonyms at once, you can pick and choose.  For example, try searching for "music therapy" AND autism AND children AND communication.  

If that doesn't work, switch one word for another, say "kids" instead of "children".  My search strategy would then be "music therapy" AND autism AND kids AND communication.


Check out this video on Developing a Search Strategy