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Communication Sciences and Disorders

A useful guide for when you have to do research in the field of speech language pathology

Search Strategy (visual)

The Search Strategy Process

Is this right for my research?

Search Strategy and Tips

  • Conceive: what’s the assignment? What will your topic be?
  • Organize: what are you looking for? Historical information, current information, statistical data, peer reviewed article?
  • Keywords: break your topic down into keywords or concepts.  Once you have keywords, find synonyms for those words and phrases. How can you combine them?
  • Start Broad: start your searching with one or two keywords (broad topic) and narrow your search as you go with additional terms, altering what years of publication you’re looking for, only looking at peer reviewed articles, etc.
  • Analyze: scan the results of your search to see what kind of articles you’re getting with your searches. If you’re finding good articles, look at those articles keywords and subject headings that were used in their records – these will help as you continue your search.
    • If you’re not finding anything exact, find something close and try those keywords and subjects
  • Reassess: if you’re not getting the results you’re looking for, you may need to change your searches, broaden or narrow your topic, or change your topic.  Ask for help if you’re not sure what your best option is.
  • Restart: research is a cyclical process, you may need to start from scratch or just from an earlier step like choosing new keywords.

Keep track of your search and your results. Remember research is a process and you may try many things before you find what works best for your topic. If you think of it like troubleshooting a problem on your computer that might help. 

Keep track of your search terms and jot down other words you find while perusing the articles that result from your searches.

The "search history" option under the search box can also help with that.

Email, print, or save articles that might be useful for your research, even if you're not sure that you're going to use them.

This sample topic is used to demonstrate how to pull out keywords and critically assess your topic. 

If your topic is: 

What is the influence of Spanish literary custom on Medieval lyric poetry?

 1. Identify keywords or phrases:       

    Spain(ish)      literature      culture      Medieval      lyric poetry

 2. Explore synonyms for your keywords/phrases:

    Medieval: Middle Ages, Dark Ages, Gothic 

    Culture: customs, tradition, practices

3. Use these terms in your search. Combine the synonyms with the word "or".

For example: Medieval OR Middle Ages OR Dark Ages OR Gothic

4. Make use of the Subject Headings option on the left of your screen to find appropriate subject headings for your topic and use them in a search


Note: some of your initial keywords may be similar like literature and lyric poetry.  Other keywords you could use for either of these terms:  literary, poems, lyric poems, prose or because we are disucssing Spanish literary customs from a specific time period, you can use non-English terms such as "kharjas" or "Mester de Juglaria". You could also look at specific famous poems such as Cantar de Mio Cid or Mester de Clerecia

Use unique, specific terms.  If you're researching a subject with a unique vocabulary, don't be afraid to use those terms.  It's the difference between searching "ocelot" (8,490,000 results in Google) and "Leopardus pardalis" (387,000 results in Google). That's over an 8 million result difference. 

By using specific and/or unique terms, you are likely to find more relevant information. It is also likely to be of a higher quality, as most people don't use professional vocabulary casually. 

Remember to search in the advanced search mode

Enter your 1st keyword(s)/phrase(s) in the first line (using our sample search from two tabs ago, Medieval or Middle Ages).

Your second concept in our example is culture. Enter that key phrase and any synonyms in the second line of the search box. Your search results should then include both concepts somewhere in the record.

You can add as many concepts as you like - all databases and the library catalog will allow you to add more than the default 3 fields when you're in advanced search.

Below you see an example of combining 2 concepts with multiple keywords in a database.

Screenshot of advanced search with multiple fields entered

Once you have collected some articles, take a closer look at them.

  • Read and review what you have. Do you have enough information to support your topic?
  • If you don't like what you have or you don't have enough good information, go back to your search. Try some new keywords or a different database.
  • Explore some of the subject headings from the articles that you do want to use.
  • If some of your articles have citations you might want to look at some of the sources listed there.
  • If you're stuck -- ask a librarian for help.

Reading these sections of an article/book will help you determine if the item you're looking at is relevant to your research. The title, abstract and discussion/conclusion are usually all you really need to read from an article to see if you can use it. 

  • Abstract: This is a summary of the article/item and will give you a good idea if it will be of use. This is the only part that will be in the item record and in the article. 
  • Introduction: This will tell you the history of the topic and the goal(s) of what you’re reading.
  • Literature Review: Summary of similar or previous research on the topic. *May not be included.
  • Methodology: How did they approach the topic/their research? *May not be included.
  • Results: Lists and discusses what the research discovered. *May not be included. 
  • Discussion/Conclusion: The results of what they found and their implications.