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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Information and Computer Sciences

Moving from Research Question to Research Strategy

Moving from a research question to an effective search strategy requires that you: 

  1. break your research question down into its core concepts,
  2. identify alternative keywords for those concepts,
  3. combine your keywords with boolean connectors to create a strategy
  4. iterate different combinations of keywords and concepts until you find a search method that returns relevant results! 

Keyword Searching

Keywords are the words that you use when searching online catalogs and library databases. Select your keywords carefully; the more targeted they are, the more efficient your searches will be. 

  • Keywords should represent the most important concepts in your topic.
  • Try multiple variants or synonyms of your keywords. Sometimes you may have to do several searches to identify keywords related to your topic.
  • If you find a good and relevant source for your topic, look for additional keyword synonyms in the title, abstract, and subject headings.

Modified from Choosing and Using Keywords Tutorial, CREDO Instruct

For Example!

Search Strategy AI Regulation

Modified from Research Methods in Gerontology LibGuide, Georgia State University Library. 

Keyword Searching Activity

Keyword Searching Activity

Keyword Search Tips!

Are you getting too many results? Narrow your search by:

  • Put keyword phrases into quotations, IE: "artificial intelligence"
  • Use AND between search terms; Use NOT to eliminate irrelevant terms
  • Use fielded searches, IE: search in the title or abstract fields
  • Try additional synonyms for your keywords, look at subject headings of relevant results for ideas
  • Use filters to narrow down by time frame, format, etc. 
  • Try a different, more specialized database
  • Review your research question, is it too broad? 

Are you getting too few search results? Broaden your search by: 

  • Use OR between search terms
  • Nest keyword synonyms together using OR, IE: (iphone OR smartphone OR mobile phone)
  • Search Full Text or All Text rather than fields
  • Use truncation to find word variants, IE: autis* will return autistic or autism
  • Try alternative search terms
  • Try a different, more general database
  • Review your research question, is it too narrow? 



Image from Introduction to Boolean Operators, Slippery Rock University

Search Techniques Tutorials