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University of Wollongong Australia

Literature Review: Effective searching

Research terms

Try adding some of these research terms to your search strategies (click on terms for examples).

statistics review
data methodology
survey quantitative
test qualitative
trend landmark
bibliography research

Working with keywords and subject headings

  • Start with a keyword search (can retrieve irrelevant or too many results)
  • Choose a relevant record(s) and note the subject headings
  • Repeat your search using the subject headings to focus your search (you may need to change the search box from keyword to subject)

This example from the thesaurus in ProQuest shows subject headings related to ‘global warming’

Broader Term:

Climate change

Related Terms:

Carbon offsets
Carbon sequestration
Climate science
Greenhouse effect
Greenhouse gases

Your search strategy

Use this worksheet to plan and record keywords.

Plan your search

Try identifying alternative variations or synonyms for your keywords - you can type directly into the boxes below.

Download a search strategy worksheet to plan and record your keywords.

Effective searching

Keywords Use the keywords from your topic

Use appropriate connectors to focus or broaden your search
AND retrieves items that contain both your keywords
Example: climate change AND pollution

OR retrieves items that contain either of your keywords
Example: woman OR female

NOT retrieves items that contain one and not the other of your keywords - use cautiously


Truncation symbols are placed at the end of a word stem to find variations of a word. The most commonly used symbol is the asterisk (*)
Example: educat* will search for educate, educating, education, educational, educator, educators

Be careful not to truncate too early in the word, as this may retrieve unrelated items
Example: pol* will retrieve policy, police, polish, political

Proximity Searching

Proximity searching allows you to specify where your search terms will appear in relation to each other
Example: pain w/10 morphine will search for "pain" within ten words of "morphine"

Check the help notes in the database you are using

Phrase Searching

Phrase searching uses inverted commas around two or more words to tell the database that the words should be searched together in that order
Example: "climate change"

More ways to improve your research results

Related Terms

Consider alternative and related keywords. The same idea can be described using different terms.
Example: "mobile phones" OR "cell phones"

Subject Headings

Use a subject heading search to focus your results. Subject headings describe the primary content of an item and can also identify alternative keywords. Subject headings may vary across databases. Subject searches also help where terminology in the literature changes over time.
Example: "climate change" is often referred to as "global warming" in older literature.

Check to see if a thesaurus or 'map terms' option is available in the resource you are using. This will help identify synonyms, spelling variations, and broader or narrower terms.

Spelling Example: ageing OR aging | globalization OR globalisation

Wildcard symbols allow you to search for spelling variations within the same or related terms. Specific wild card symbols will vary from database to database. Check the 'Help' section within the database you are using to find the correct wildcard symbol to use.
Example: wom?n will find woman, women, or womyn


Nesting is the use of brackets to clarify relationships between search terms.
Example: (television OR media) AND violence

Field Searching Database searches default to search particular fields i.e. citation and abstract, but often offer the option to change the search field from a dropdown menu next to the search boxes. Explore the available dropdown menus to change the fields to be searched.
Date Range Most databases allow you to set a date range to limit or expand your results

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