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Research Help: Preparing a Search Strategy

Preparing a Search Strategy

This brief guide provides tips on how to prepare an effective search strategy when using Novanet or searching Library Databases.

A sample research topic:

Discuss the effects that mergers and the increasing concentration of media ownership may have on objectivity in news reporting.

Where to begin:

1.  Once you have thought about the topics and issues you will be researching, create a list of KEYWORDS that best describe your subject and your approach to the subject (specific themes to be studied, theoretical approaches, etc).

  • Tip: Include synonyms to account for variations in terminology. You should also account for variations in language, spelling (color, colour), tense, etc. Antonyms are also occasionally helpful.

Examples :

media, radio, television, newspaper, film, news, publication, broadcaster
ownership, concentration, merger, cartel, takeover, monopoly
objectivity, bias, control, prejudice, slant, diversity

Note: the above is not intended to represent a complete list of possible terms.

2. Using the list of Keywords you have generated, create a variety of search strategies.

In most databases, words and phrases may be combined using AND, OR, & NOT (i.e. Boolean operators).


media and ownership
media and ownership and concentration
media ownership and concentration
media and merger* and ownership
media and ownership and bias
media and (merger* or ownership) and bias


The phrase "media ownership" will, in some databases, generate different results than a search combining the words "media" and "ownership". 

A phrase search will only retrieve records that contain the exact phrase "media ownership" ("quotation marks" may be required for phrase searching in certain databases)

A search for media and ownership (without quotes) will retrieve records that contain both words but in any order and not necessarily side by side.

- The "*" is a truncation symbol.

Example: "tempt*" finds tempt, temptation, temptations, temptor, etc.

The function of this symbol (truncation symbols) may vary from database to database. Also, some databases may use a different truncation symbol instead of the "*". Check the Help or Tips page of the database you are searching if you are not sure which one to use.

3. Select the appropriate Library Database and begin searching.

See the Find Articles page or use the A-Z List of Databases to find the most appropriate databases for your topic.  .


  • Keep track of your searches (search history) and save your search results.
  • Evaluate your search results: are the items uncovered by your search relevant to your topic? scholarly? recent?
  • Pay attention to language (such as words used in the titles of articles, in abstracts, or as descriptors or subject terms). You may find additional terms to add to your list of keywords.  
  • Use multiple search strategies: do not rely on the results from just one or two searches. Use the various combinations of words and phrases (see above) to perform multiple searches.

Remember: research does not necessarily end once you begin writing your paper!

New ideas and areas of interest may come to light once you start working through your preliminary research findings. You may want to perform new searches that incorporate this new information, new terminology, etc.

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Last updated August 2019