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Education - Doing a Literature Review

Crafting a search strategy

Keywords, or search terms, are words or short phrases that represent the main ideas or concepts in your topic. Choosing and using the right words in your search strategy is a huge part of your success in finding resources.

It is important to remember that although different databases might look different, they all function in largely the same way. So, once you know how to do a title search in one database, you should be able to do it in all of them.


Define topic & build a search strategy

Once you have selected your topic, break your topic into concepts and make up a list of various terms that describe your topic. Then, combine your topics to make up your search strategy. See the library's guide on Advanced searching techniques to find out how to combine your search terms to be the most effective..

For example, suppose that you wanted to find articles about whether elementary students in a bilingual program have difficulty with language acquisition, especially learning to read.


Keyword A: elementary students OR primary grades OR intermediate grades
Keyword B: bilingual OR immersion program OR second language learning
Keyword C: language acquisition OR language processing OR reading instruction

Note: For more information, check out the TRU Library's guides: "Define a Topic" and "Plan a Search."


Review your search results

  A. Did you find relevant articles on your topic?  

Sometimes a keyword search retrieves articles that contain your keywords but are not relevant to your topic. Tips for improving the search:

  • Try using different keywords
  • Try searching a different article database
  • Ask your liaison librarian for help
  B. Did you retrieve too many articles?  

Sometimes a keyword search retrieves hundreds or even thousands of articles –– way too many to consider. In this case, you need to reduce the number of articles by narrowing your search topic, usually by adding another keyword to your search. For example:

elementary students and bilingual and language acquisition and English

Be careful: The more keywords you link with "and", the more specific your search becomes, and thus the fewer the articles you will retrieve.


  C. Did you retrieve too few articles?  

Keyword searching will not find everything that is available on your topic! Try other combinations of words using synonyms or related terms to your original keyword to find more articles on your topic. Many databases apply subject headings to articles and you can discover which subject headings to use by looking at the databases' thesauri.


Keeping a log

It is worth keeping a log of your searches, key words, databases, etc...  As times goes by it will be difficult to remember what you searched, where you searched and what you found in your search.  Keeping a log will also help you see how your research has evolved over time and help you avoid repeating ineffective searches.