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Search strategy: what, where, how?
Your search strategy defines what you search, where you search and how you perform your search. In the course of your search process you take many decisions that affect the quality of search results and the time needed to get those results.
The main decisions in your search strategy relate to:
- What: Think through in advance what information you really need: subject, type of information (analysis, news, statistics, opinion, overview etc.), level and recency. The exact terms you are going to use in your search are of crucial importance.
- Where: What you are looking for determines where you should go to find it: choose your databases carefully, there is not one search engine or database that has it all. The library gives access to search engines for each discipline.
- How: There are various methods of searching. The systematic/bibliographic method (using search terms in scholarly databases) and the snow ball method (finding new information related to what you already have) are the most important. The exact application of these methods depends on the options available in the database or search engine.
The special LibGuide search strategy has more on setting up successful search strategies.
See also the special Libguide on Evaluating sources
Generating search terms
The right search terms are the most important conditons for an effective search.
- Think 'in terms of' the article to be found. What words are likely to be used in the article you hope to find?
- As a result of your findings, correct your search terms a few times in the initial phase of your search
Keep in mind the different kinds of terms:
- broader terms
- narrower terms
- related terms
- persons or organisations related to your subject
- translation into languages relevant for subject and discipline
- Think, for each of these categories, of the different forms (single, plural etc.) spelling variations and possible abbreviations/acronyms)
You don't have to think of terms all by yourself. Use the tools:
- words from an introductory article in Wikipedia for instance
- words from search result pages in search engines
- keywords from previously found sources (especially the so-called 'author keywords')
- dictionaries, for translations and for looking up the meaning of words
- thesauruses, for finding related terms that you may not have thought of (e.g. this general thesaurus for the English language)
In the special LibGuide page on formulating a search question you will find more information on how to generate search terms
From Question to Keywords
The "snowball" method
In addition to using search terms in scholarly databases (a search box) you can follow references from one publication to another (a snowball).
- Check the works cited in publications you have already found. But be aware:
- You will only find older publications
- You will mostly find publications that fit the author's argumentation.
- Check the cited-by references in databases like Google Scholar. You will:
- Find more recent publications
- Find publications that discuss (refer to, built on, comment on, refute ) the publication you have already found.
Types of publication
These are relevant types of publications and why they are relevant:
- book (monograph): theory, extensive, contemplative, context, overview
- book (edited volume): case studies, theory
- dissertation: extensive, bibliography
- article (scholarly): research output, current, peer review
- book review: discussion and judgement of a specific monograph
- reference works: definitions, facts, theories and descriptions
- handbook: theory, current state of knowledge, summing-up
- newspaper and media: news, opinion
- social media: news, ideas, discussion
Sources for your literature review can also be divided into:
- primary: original works
- secondary: analysis/synthesis/critique of primary sources
- tertiary: synthesis of primary and secondary sources, e.g. reference works.
More on this tripartition can be found in Chapter 2 ("Literature review: Not a method but a prerequisite") from the New Media Studies Method Reader.