Start developing a search strategy by identifying the key words and concepts within your research question.
For example: How do students view inclusive educational practices in schools?
Treat each component as a separate concept (there are usually between 2-4 concepts).
For each concept list the key words derived from your research question, as well as any other relevant terms or synonyms that you have found in your preliminary searches. Also consider singular and plural forms of words, variant spellings, acronyms and relevant index terms (subject headings).
|Search concept 1||Search concept 2||Search concept 3||Search concept 4|
|pupil||perception||special education needs||education|
As part of the process of developing a search strategy, it is recommended that you keep a master list of search terms for each key concept. This will make it easier when it comes to translating your search strategy across multiple database platforms.
Boolean operators are used to combine the different concepts in your topic to form a search strategy. The main operators used to connect your terms are AND and OR. See an explanation below:
Example: perspective OR attitude
Example: inclusive education AND student perspective
Example: education NOT higher education will retrieve all results that include the word education but don’t contain the phrase higher education.
See the website for venn diagrams demonstrating the function of AND/OR/NOT:
Use symbols to retrieve word variations:
The truncation symbol is commonly an asterisk * and is added at the end of a word.
Example: educat* will retrieve education, educators, educational, etc
Note: If you don't want to retrieve all possible variations, an easy alternative is to utilise the OR operator instead e.g. education OR educational.
The wildcard symbols include the question mark ? and hash #. They replace zero, one or more characters in the middle of a word.
Example: wom#n finds woman or women, behavio?r finds behaviour or behavior.
The symbols may vary in different databases - See the Database search tips guide for details or check the Help link in any database.
For phrase searching, place two or more words in "inverted commas" or "quote marks".
Example: “inclusive education”
In some databases, words may be searched separately if the quote marks are not used. In other databases, word order may be maintained without the need for quote marks.
See the Database search tips for details on phrase searching in key databases, or check the Help link in any database.
Many databases use subject headings to index content. These are selected from a controlled list and describe what the article is about.
A comprehensive search strategy is often best achieved by using a combination of keywords and subject headings where possible.
In-depth knowledge of subject headings is not required for users to benefit from improved search performance using them in their searches.
Advantages of subject searching:
Note: Subject headings are often unique to a particular database, so you will need to look for appropriate subject headings in each database you intend to use.
Subject headings are not available for every topic, and it is best to only select them if they relate closely to your area of interest.
Sources for a 'gold set' may include:
The papers in your 'gold set' can then be used to help you identify relevant search terms
The 'gold set' will also provide a means of testing your search strategy
The above search strategy in a nested format (for use in a single search box) would look like:
(student* OR pupil* OR "young people" OR learner*) AND (perception* OR experience OR voice OR perspective*) AND (inclusi* OR "special education" OR belonging OR disabilit*)