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Search Strategy

Adopted from the original Search Strategy Worksheet on the HSU Library website

Tips for Entering Your Search Strategy

Having developed a search strategy you are now ready to enter it into the index or catalog you have selected to search. A sample search box from an index is shown above. To enter your search strategy use the following general search tips in addition to using the specific instructions for inputting keywords in the specific database you are searching.


The concepts unique to your topic are often a mixture of specific and broad ideas. A useful approach is to identify the most specific concept of your topic and search that one first. If this initial search retrieves only a few references, just browse through them and identify the references relevant to your topic. If your search retrieves many references, repeat your search and add another concept using the AND boolean connector to decrease your results.


As described in STEP 3 above try to use "controlled" keywords since they bring together similar ideas under one standardized word or phrase that may be described in the literature by several different keywords. If you do not know what "controlled" keyword(s) to use, conduct an initial search using the keyword(s) you have. In reviewing your search results look for "controlled" keywords, often called descriptors or subject headings, which commonly appear as part of each citation description. Then repeat your search with the addition of these "controlled" keywords.


Use a "building block" approach to searching if the database you are searching allows for it. Enter each of your concepts individually by ORing together the list of synonymous keywords you have created, e.g., socialization or social development or social skill*. After each of your concepts has been entered use the database "Search History" feature, if available, to AND together each of the concepts. Employing this approach allows you to:

  • add new keywords you have identified
  • try different concept combinations using the AND connector, e.g., concept 1 and concept 2 and concept 3 concept 1 and concept 3 concept 3 and concept 2