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Reviewing search strategies

The quantity and type of material required will influence the types of information sources you consult. Sometimes it's hard to know when to stop looking for information. Have I been comprehensive enough in my search? Once you understand what you need, knowing when you have enough relevant material to suit those needs should be clear.

If you're having difficulty retrieving sufficient relevant information, it may be that little has been written on your topic, or that some part of your search strategy needs to be revised. If you are undertaking doctoral research, for instance, an aim will be to investigate gaps in the literature. Your research should make an original contribution to knowledge. You may need to look for different keywords and/or combine your existing search terms in different ways. It may also mean that you need to look for information in other sources such as additional library catalogues or databases.

As you are searching for information you will be constantly evaluating and reviewing both the quality and quantity of your results. Check constantly that the information you find meets your needs. If not, revise and refine your search strategies.

Ask yourself the following questions:

When defining my topic, have I?

  • Determined the relevant keywords to use as search terms
  • Used truncation / wildcards to expand search terms
  • Used phrase searching, Near or With, or nesting appropriately
  • Determined the relationships between search terms
  • Formulated effective search strategies

When identifying and searching information sources, have I?

  • Selected appropriate information sources such as library catalogues, databases and ejournals, citation indexes and the Internet
  • Kept current using alert services
  • Cited information using the correct referencing style
  • Managed my information in a systematic way using EndNote