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PSCI 3300: Introduction to Political Research

Library research guide for PSCI 2300

Search Strategies to Enhance Research 

This page is designed to introduce you to search strategies to find review-reviewed articles in databases and library systems.. If you don't find what you are looking for or need help using them, contact a librarian like Brea Henson, Political Science Librarian. 

Getting Started: What is Peer-Review?

Many instructors require you to use peer-reviewed sources for your papers and projects, but what does that mean?

  • Peer review is the process of having experts in a field review the quality of an article or book before it is published
  • Most articles in scholarly and academic journals are peer-reviewed
  • Books published by university or academic presses are peer-reviewed

Most databases allow you to limit your search to peer-reviewed articles.

Developing a Search Strategy

A search strategy is an organized structure of key terms used to search a database. The search strategy combines the key concepts of your search question in order to retrieve accurate results.

Your search strategy will account for all:

  • possible search terms
  • keywords and phrases
  • truncated and wildcard variations of search terms
  • subject headings (where applicable)

Each database works differently so you need to adapt your search strategy for each database. You may wish to develop a number of separate search strategies if your research covers several different areas.

It is a good idea to test your strategies and refine them after you have reviewed the search results.

"Literature search explained: Develop a search Strategy." University of Leeds. https://library.leeds.ac.uk/info/1404/literature_searching/14/literature_searching_explained/4

Tip for Success

It might be helpful to keep a list ot terms, combinations of terms, number of results, and which databases were tried. The 2300 Research Log file below can help you develop a search strategy.

Step-by-Step Strategies

Keep in mind that research is an iterative process so you will have to do multiple searches in more than one database for maxim results. 

Basic/Advanced: Steps to Creating Search Strategies

Identify the keywords in your research question.

Keywords are words that carry content and meaning. The keywords in the research  question "What is the feeding range of the blue whale in the Pacific Ocean?" are feeding range, blue whale and Pacific Ocean.

Brainstorm synonyms for your keywords.

Think of words similar to your keywords in case a database doesn't use your original keywords. Synonyms for blue whale are baleen whale and Balaenoptera musculus.

Create Boolean searches using the keywords.

A Boolean search is a search using the words AND, OR and NOT between the keywords. These words have a special function when used in a database.

  • The search [blue whale AND Pacific Ocean] will find all of the articles that contain both words. AND makes your search narrower.
  • The search [blue whale OR Balaenoptera musculus] will find all articles that contain one word, or the other, or both. OR is placed between synonyms and makes your search broader.
  • The search [blue whale NOT Atlantic Ocean] will find all articles containing "blue whale" and exclude the articles that also contain "Atlantic Ocean." NOT excludes articles that you don't want.  

Use the truncation symbol (or wildcard symbol) to search for word variations.

You can avoid doing multiple searches for variations on word endings using the truncation symbol * (the asterisk) in most databases.  Entering the keyword "blue whale*" will look for both blue whale and blue whales.

Add keywords to limit the type of article you retrieve.

If you want a literature review, add "AND review" to your keywords. To find a research study, add "AND study" to your keywords.

Enter your Boolean searches in the Advanced Search of a database.

Always go to the Advanced Search in a database to enter your Boolean searches because it gives you multiple boxes with the Boolean operators between them. If you are using a search with multiple search strings, enter OR within the search boxes and AND between the search boxes, e.g., [blue whale OR Balaenoptera musculus] AND [feeding range OR feeding grounds] AND [Pacific Ocean].

Practice Assignment and Additional Reading for Advanced Search Strategies

BASIC/ADVANCED: Find keyword synonyms

When you don't know synonyms for your topic keywords, you can use online dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference books to find them. You can also use Wikipedia to find a definition or synonym for a word, but don't use it as a source for your paper or project because it is not authoritative.

Additional Links

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