Skip to Main Content

Library guide for Law & Government research skills

Why a search strategy?

1. Crafting a search strategy will help you to articulate and re-articulate your research question.

2. A search strategy will save you time and energy.

3. A search strategy will make it easier for someone else to understand your research path.

4. A search strategy will help you to remain consistent in your search from one search tool to the next.

5. A search strategy will evolve as your research evolves, allowing you to reconsider how you might use the sources you discover along the way.

(Image source: Wageningen University)

Isn't all searching the same?

Throughout the research process, your search strategy will change as your information objectives change. 

Early on in the research process, KEYWORD SEARCHING can allow you to discover the variety of sources available to you and the scope of the topic you're exploring.

Once you've defined a research question, SUBJECT SEARCHING can lead you to collections of resources in databases and library catalogues that are grouped by the subject they address.

And after you have found and selected resources you would like to explore more deeply, CITATION SEARCHING will allow you to track down the original sources of information used by the researchers you've chosen to work with.

The search process

{1} Construct a search strategy

► Define your topic
► What question do you want to answer?
► Identify keywords and phrases
► Brainstorm alternate spellings, related terms, broader terms, or narrower terms
► Identify the subject area or areas which your topic might fall under

{2} Test your search

► Start testing out your keywords or phrases in the databases you've identified as relevant to your subject area. Much like driving a car, while each database may look slightly different, the underlying functionality (what's under the hood) is much the same.
► If you don't come up with what you're looking for right away, consider some of the alternate terms you selected. You can also use the following tricks to refine your search.

  • Phrase searching: "flea collar"
  • Truncation: prevent*
  • Boolean AND: dog* AND flea*
  • Boolean OR: dog* OR cat*
  • Boolean NOT: dog* NOT cat*
  • Complex searches: (dog* OR cat*) AND flea*

{3} Refine your search

► Once you find a book or article that is on target, use it to help further refine your search, or to locate potential new sources (also called snowballing).

{4} Tips

► Use the subject lines in records to link to other books or articles on the same subject (see example Constitutional law).
► Some databases provide for searches by citation (cited references searching) (e.g. Scopus, EBSCO etc.)

(content sourced from Colby)

Literature Review

The eBook 'The literature review: six steps to success' provides you with a road map to developing and writing an effective literature review for your assignment, research project, thesis, or dissertation.

See in particular chapters 3 (search the literature) & 4 (survey the literature)