Planning a search strategy

Before you start searching it is recommended that you formally plan or build your search strategy to maximise your chances of finding a manageable number of relevant results.

What is a search strategy?

A search strategy is the planned and structured organisation of terms used to search a database. The complexity of the strategy depends on the reasons for searching and the type of question you are investigating. If, for example, you are looking for background information, a simple search strategy may be sufficient. In comparison, a literature review will require in-depth research with a comprehensive search strategy to ensure that all relevant sources of evidence have been identified.

The benefits of a well-planned search strategy are:

  • Retrieval of relevant references
  • Inclusion of all key references
  • Manageable number of results
  • Efficient use of time

Planning a search strategy includes the following:

  • Identifying search terms
  • Truncation, wildcards, and phrases
  • Combining terms with Boolean Operators (AND, OR, or NOT)
  • Applying limits to your search