Developing your search strategy

Now that you have defined your research question you need a search strategy that you will be able to use with databases and search engines.

Search keywords

Combine the ideas of your question with the logical operator AND. The operator AND narrows the search by instructing the search engine to search for occurrences of the first keyword and then for occurrences of the second keyword but only show results that contain both  keywords.

Include synonyms and related terms with the logical operator OR to increase access to material covering the different ideas in your topic. The OR search is useful to include common synonyms for a concept, or variant spellings of a word.


  • The closer your keywords are to each other (same sentence or paragraph), the more likely the information you retrieve will be relevant.
  • Try at least one specific keyword that captures the main idea. The others can be more generic. For example, the term “polar bear” is specific while the term “mammal” is generic.
  • Don’t use broad terms such as causeseffects, factorstrendsbenefitsadvantagesdisadvantages or impact. These words are used too often to add to your search. You will restrict your search results without adding relevance.
  • Quotation marks (“ ”) will find words together (i.e., climate change).
  • (*) finds the different endings for a word (e.g., use Canad* to retrieve Canada, Canadian, Canadians etc.)
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