Home†>†Research Tools > Smart Student Research Guide

Smart Student Research Guide

Step 5: Search Strategies and Concept Maps
Skip to Step 6: Finding books, articles & videos

It is important to map out how you will go about searching for research materials on your topic prior to beginning your search. Here is an example of a search strategy worksheet [PDF] that you may find helpful as you read through this page.

Jump to:


Steps for Creating a Search Strategy
1. State your search topic.
Small loans given through microcredit organizations help to reduce poverty in developing nations.

2. Identify major concepts and relevant keywords(think of synonyms).
Examples of keywords:

- microcredit
- microfinance (broader term)
- poverty
- poor
- "poverty alleviation"
- "developing nation*"
- "developing countr*"
Related terms:

- entrepreneurship
- "non-governmental organization*"
- NGO*
- "economic development"
- "Grameen bank"
- women
Use quotation marks around phrases of two or more terms. Use truncation sign(*) to search for variant endings of a word.

3. Create some sample searches by pairing combinations of keywords.

- microcredit and poverty
- microcredit and "developing countr*"
- microcredit and women and "non-governmental organization*"
- (microcredit or microfinance) and women
Watch a short video explaining Boolean operators.


Concept mapping
A concept map is a diagram that illustrates the relationships between related topics by visually showing the links between a broader topic and relevant sub-topics, or showing the links between multiple related terms. It enables you to quickly find information when you don't know exactly what to look for or want to expand your knowledge of a given area.

mind map

Create a concept map for ...

To download blank concept mapping templates, visit MyMindMap.net.


Searching by Keyword
Keywords are significant words (usually nouns or noun phrases) which can be used as search terms in online catalogs or databases. You should search by keyword when you want to know what materials the library has on a particular topic or if you are unsure about the author or title of an item.

To search by keyword, enter one or more search terms. Try enclosing phrases with quotation marks in order to search for that exact phrase.
  • graphic novels
  • sustainability
  • "employee assistance programs"
Use the truncation sign(*) to search for variant endings of a word:
  • Hypnot* (retrieves hypnotism, hypnotist, hypnotic, hypnotists)

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators help to narrow or broaden your search. The most useful logical connectors are AND, OR, NOT.

AND finds records containing both terms. This narrows the search. For example:
  • Picasso AND Mona Lisa
  • Alcohol AND anxiety
OR finds records containing either one or both terms. This broadens the search. It can also be used to account for variant spellings. For example:
  • Behavior OR Behaviour
  • Global warming OR Greenhouse effect
NOT finds records containing the first term, but not the second term. This narrows the search. For example:
  • Fisheries NOT Alaska
  • Textile industry NOT cotton
You can use more than one logical connector in the same search statement:
  • Depression AND Teenagers OR Adolescents


Searching by Subject Heading
owl Subject headings are words given to books that describe what the book is about. Once you know the subject heading, you can find other books and materials related to the same topic. As in most academic libraries, McKillop Library uses the The Library of Congress Classification System (LC System).

You can often find relevant subject headings by looking into an itemís record in the catalog:


Searching by Author
An author search looks for a personal name, organization, conference, or government body. Personal names include authors, actors, directors, editors, composers, etc. You can search by last name only, last name first initial, or last name and first name:

  • Dickens Charles
  • Rowling J
  • Cruise Tom
  • Hemingway
  • Sondheim Stephen
  • White House Conference on Aging
  • United States Congress


Searching by Title
Title searches can include titles of books, journals, plays, government documents, musical scores, etc.

Do not abbreviate words in a title search although you may truncate (shorten) the last word. If you cannot find the item by title: check your spelling, try a shortened form of the title, or try a keyword search. Example title searches:

  • Harry Potter
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone
  • Journal of the American Heart Assoc
  • People


You should have a research topic and a list of some keywords as well as a search strategy. Next, let's find books, articles and other materials to use in our research project!