Planning your search

Before you begin looking for resources for your assignment or research, focus on planning your search strategy. A small amount of time now will save you time and frustration later.

Planning your approach can help you get better results for your search and in your assignment. You can break it into these steps:


Summarise your question or topic

This sounds obvious, but to begin searching you should be clear about the topic of your research or assignment.

If this is for an assessment, ensure you review your assessment instructions. You may already have received a topic, a statement or clues to guide your search.

So write down your summary and check that it's clear and focused.


Identify the keywords

Now highlight, underline or circle the keywords or main concepts in your summary. These words can help you build your search strategy and set parameters.

Add alternatives

Think of alternative search words for each concept

These can be synonyms, related words, abbreviations, acronyms and other words that are specific to your topic.

To discover synonyms, refer to a thesaurus (such as Merriam-Webster's thesaurus) and see what other words could be used.

Clever techniques

Be clever

Now you have a strong basis for your search, it doesn't stop there.

Improve your search strategy using special characters and symbols to create clever search strings. There is more detail about these advanced techniques in the section below

Search Planner

Document your search

This will help you plan your search properly and remember the techniques.

Download the planner below and follow the steps to create your own search strategy.

Search planner (DOC, 55KB)

Advanced search techniques

Consider using some of these advanced search techniques to improve your search results.


Boolean searching is a type of search that allows users to combine keywords with operators (such as AND, OR, NOT) to produce more relevant results

Using the word AND between two keywords narrows a search to show results containing both words.

e.g. child AND development

Using the word OR between two keywords broadens a search to show results containing either word.

e.g. fiction OR fantasy

Using NOT will narrow your search by excluding certain results from your search, however it should be used with care as this technique can remove relevant results.

e.g. depression NOT anxiety

Grouping your words

Brackets can be used to group keywords together, so they are searched first.

e.g. (animal OR mammal) AND habitat
Result: information on animals or mammals and habitat.

Use Quotation marks to search for words in an exact order.

e.g. ‘‘global warming’’
Result: information on global warming, not separate topics including just global or just warming.

Using symbols

Add an asterisk to the end of a keyword to find variations of the word

e.g. adolescen*  
Results: include adolescent, adolescents, adolescence

Replace a single letter of a word with a question mark to find alternate spellings.

e.g. organi?ation  
Results: include organisation and organization


Combine a number of these techniques into one search phrase for really specific results.