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LIBR 399: Planning Research Projects: Developing a Search Strategy

A guide to research projects for LIT students.

Define the Research Topic

The key to an effective search strategy is a well defined topic. Learn more from this guide by Emory University or the video below.

Remember that developing a good topic is often a cyclical process. You may go through several rounds of refining your topic as you learn more about it.

Search Strategy

For any search, it is helpful to develop a search strategy before you begin so that your search is narrowed and focused.

1. Define your topic

Decide what you want to research based upon your assignment requirements. Then, turn your topic into a research question. Focus your search on answering all aspects of that question.


Your topic is "evaluation of sediment levels of a drainage pond using sonar technology".

Your research question could be: "What is the best technique to measure sediment levels in storm water ponds using sonar echolocation technology?"

2. Choose your keywords

Identify the main concepts in your question and develop keywords based upon that question. Brainstorm synonyms and related concepts for your keywords. 

Make your search make your search more effective by using the following to separate your keywords (terms):

  • AND - find all  the terms (ex.  "age discrimination" AND workplace)

  • OR - find any of the terms (ex. workplace OR workforce)

  • NOT - exclude a certain term (ex. Canada NOT "United States")


Your keywords could be:

Storm water pond

Drainage pond

Retention pond






3. Select your search tools

You can find credible information using Library Search, the main search box on the library homepage. You also may need to select subject specific resources and/or search engines like Google to fully answer your research question. It is good practice to draw information from a variety of sources.

EXAMPLE: A search string based upon the above concepts could be:

("storm ponds" OR "retention ponds" OR "drainage ponds") AND sediment AND sonar

4. Search, refine, and search again

Search for your topic, refine your search string, and then search again. 

Tracking your research

Consider using tools like Google Drive or Office 365 to keep track of your research and collaborate with team members. If you expect to manage a lot of research sources, our Citation Software guide may also be of use to you. 

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