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ABP Study and Research Guide

This guide will help you with your studies in the Bachelor of Design, MSD and beyond.

Before you start searching

What do you have to do?

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:

  • content words
  • direction words
  • limiting words

These will also give you some initial key concepts to use in your search. 

Discuss (direction word) ways in which John Soane's architecture (content words) was influenced by his preoccupation with the theme of death (limiting words)

For more guidance on analysing your task, refer to Analysing the task: direction words.

What type of resources do you need?

Your assignment instructions may state how many or what type of resources you need to find. These may include:

  • Books
  • Journal articles
  • Peer-reviewed material
  • A minimum number of sources
  • A specific dictionary or encyclopedia to define terms
  • Industry standards or guidelines
  • Other specific sources your lecturer has mentioned


How can you get an overview of your topic?

If you are not yet familiar with your topic, do some general reading. You can read:

  • Books or articles on the broader subject 
  • Wikipedia - but remember, anyone can edit Wikipedia, so it can be unreliable; don't cite it or use it as a source in your work
  • Texts cited in your course readings

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. 

For advice about background reading, watch Identifying your information needs (video)
(Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning / Melbourne School of Design students only - IT support for Accessing LinkedIn Learning)
For more information about using your reading time well, refer to How to read effectively and critically

Keyword searching

Databases work differently from search engines like Google or Baidu. You will get the best results if you search for keywords.

Finding keywords

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. 

Waterways (concept 1) and sanitation (concept 2) have maintained a close association throughout history. What is their relationship to planning (concept 3) and how have they shaped the city (concept 4)?

Use your concepts to brainstorm your starting keywords, including:

  • variations of words - city, cities
  • synonyms - sanitation, public health

Synonyms for waterways: water supply, water management. For sanitation: public health. For planning: development. For city: cities, or urban.

Your list of keywords might end up looking like this:

List keywords in separate columns with synonyms underneath. Waterways synonyms: water management, water supply. Sanitation synonyms: public health, sewerage. Planning synonyms: development, design. City synonyms: cities, urban.

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. 

Combining keywords

When combining your keywords in a search, use the following:

Venn diagram of A and B. This narrows the search to just the area where A and B overlap

Combine search terms with AND when using a database to narrow your search (Google and Google Scholar do this automatically). 

waterways AND sanitation

Venn diagram of A or B. This broadens the search to include results with either A or B, or both.

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)

venn diagram of A not B, removes any results that include B from the A pool

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. 


Phrase searching " "

Use double quote marks to search for a phrase instead of each word separately. 

"water supply" "public health" "water supply" AND sanitation

Variations of a word *

Use an asterisk * at the end of a word stem to search for variations of that word. 

waterway* will search for waterway and waterways

This short video shows you how these tips help improve your searches: Building a better search strategy (video)

Using citations to search

Found a really useful article? You can use it as a starting point to find other related articles. 

Starting with a useful article, to find older articles look at the reference list. To find newer articles look up useful article in a citation database (like Scopus or Web of Science) and find articles which cite the useful article.

Use the reference list

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.

  1. Log into Scopus and search for the article title (put the title in double quotation marks " " to search for the exact title).
  2. Click on the article title in the results list to view the full record.
  3. Click on a title in the reference list at the bottom of the page to view that article. 

Screenshot of reference list showing hyperlinked article titles


Use the 'Cited by' list

In Scopus you can also see the sources that have cited an article you have found.

  1. Log into Scopus and search for the title of the article (put the title in double quotation marks " " to search for the exact title).
  2. Click on the article title in the results list to view the full record for the article.
  3. The 'Cited by' list is on the right of the page.Screenshot of Scopus article result showing cited by panel on right

Tips for searching in Google and Google Scholar

Use these shortcuts when searching Google or Google Scholar to get better results.

Search tool

How it works


Phrase search searches for the words together as a phrase "climate change"
Omit a word search will not include this word amazon -bookshop
Author Search

search for the author of a journal article or book 

Australian websites search for websites from Australia  insulation:au
Site search limit to a type of site: .gov, .edu, .com site:gov
Search within a website search only within a specific site Julie Willis
Search file type find a particular type of file: PDF, DOC, TIFF, JPG filetype:PDF
Definitions find definitions for a word define:sustainability