Carefully analyse the question or topic, so you fully understand the task.
To help prevent you from going off topic or failing to address each aspect of the task, identify:
These will also give you some initial key concepts to use in your search.
Your assignment instructions may state how many or what type of resources you need to find. These may include:
If you are not yet familiar with your topic, do some general reading. You can read:
To use your general reading time effectively, stay focused on the information you expect to find in the texts you read.
If you realise you are reading material that is not adding to your understanding of the general topic, put it aside and try something else.
To find your keywords, look for key concepts in your assignment topic.
They are likely to be the content and limiting words you identified when you analysed your task.
Use your concepts to brainstorm your starting keywords, including:
As you read, you are likely to discover more terms which relate to your topic. Create a list of these terms and add them to your search to discover more relevant material.
When combining your keywords in a search, use the following:
Combine search terms with AND when using a database to narrow your search (Google and Google Scholar do this automatically).
waterways AND sanitation
Add synonyms to your search by using OR. Remember to put parentheses around these terms.
(planning OR development)
waterways AND sanitation AND (planning OR development)
To exclude certain words from your search, use NOT. This can be useful when you are getting many results that relate to a topic that is not relevant to your work, which can happen when a search term has different meanings in different disciplines.
Use double quote marks to search for a phrase instead of each word separately.
Use an asterisk * at the end of a word stem to search for variations of that word.
Found a really useful article? You can use it as a starting point to find other related articles.
Save time searching for articles cited in a reference list by looking up your original article in Scopus, a database with a broad subject coverage and many articles, and using the links.
In Scopus you can also see the sources that have cited an article you have found.
Use these shortcuts when searching Google or Google Scholar to get better results.
How it works
|"exact words"||searches for the words together as a phrase||"climate change"|
|-word||search will not include this word||amazon -bookshop|
search for the author of a journal article or book
|:au||search for websites from Australia||insulation:au|
|site:||limit to a type of site: .gov, .edu, .com||site:gov|
|site:URL + search term||search only within a specific site||site:msd.unimelb.edu.au Julie Willis|
|filetype:||find a particular type of file: PDF, DOC, TIFF, JPG||filetype:PDF|
|define:||find definitions for a word||define:sustainability|