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Beginning Research: Plan

Help for beginning research on your essay, paper or thesis.

Quick Tips



  1. Identify keywords
  2. Develop a search strategy using your keywords
  3. Consider using a downloadable search template to develop search statements
  4. Use Boolean operators (and/or/not) to build your search
  5. Find useful terms in your search results and refine your search.

Watch a search strategies tutorial

Combining keywords and using database functionality

Combine your keywords using Boolean operators to create a search statement to use in the catalogue or library databases.

Boolean operators



Apply database functionality to improve your search.

database examples



In databases, use the basic or simple search option to enter your search statement as a string.

Catalogue example




Use the advanced search option to access a form to build your search.

Supersearch example



Developing search strategies

1. Establish the concepts or themes in your research question

Our example topic: Discuss strategies for improving electronic communication in the workplace

Main topics: 

  • strategies
  • electronic communication 
  • workplace

2. Brainstorm a list of keywords for each of the concepts or themes

For example, for the term workplace, you might think of the words:

  • work; organisation; organization; office; business (there are other possibilites)

3. Develop a search strategy by combining your keywords

You can then try searching in the library catalogue and databases using combinations of your keywords, for example:

email AND communication

It's best to start out with a broad search that just uses a few keywords. If you get lots of results you can then narrow your search by adding more keywords, for example: Professional AND email AND communication

4. Consider using a search template to develop and improve your search

Improving your search using initial search results

Once you have found some keywords, you can try a search with them and look at the terms used in library catalogue or database records, or abstracts of the resources you find.

Templates for developing a search strategy

Consider using a search template
to develop your search terms and build search statements. We have created them as Word documents so you can sustomise them for your own needs.

    Strategies for identifying keywords

      Having trouble coming up with keywords?

    • Try looking at the terms used in your recommended reading, lecture notes and textbooks.
    • You could also use a reference source such as, dictionaries, encyclopedias or handbooks to clarify the definition of keywords and concepts. A thesaurus can help you to find related terms and synonyms. Some databases have an internal thesaurus. 
    • As well as including related terms, it can be useful to consider broader and narrower terms.

    exploring terms

    Consider common variations in spelling when you are planning your search. e.g.behaviour / behavior; organisation/organization

    You will either need to search for all the variations or use the database functionality to retrieve all results eg. organi?ation