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Guide to Searching

Become a better searcher!

Tracking Your Searches

Consider creating a Search Log - especially for a Literature or Systematic Review. This can be used to track your searches through the databases. It could be in an Excel or a Word format - which ever works best for you. 

What to include?

Unless you are performing a literature or systematic review, keep a Search Log of searches that find one or more appropriate articles.

  • Search notes: Optional; Used to identify issues that you want to remember
  • Database: Note the search engine (e.g., Google Scholar) or database (e.g., PsycInfo)  in which you do the search
  • Search Strategy: Note your search strategy (so you can rerun the search if you need to)
  • # of Results: Optional for general searching
  • Notes/Thoughts: Optional; Could be on the search strategy or about the results
  • # Articles Selected: How many articles did you select to read and review?
  • Articles Selected: Note the articles you found (either with a short title or by the full citation)

Setting up the Search

Keep this form as a separate document or incorporated with your search terms.

Topic/Theme statement/Question: _____________________________

  1.  _________ (Key concept)
    • Related keywords / additional Subject and Thesaurus terms
  2. _________  (Key concept)
    • Related keywords / additional Subject and Thesaurus terms
  3. _________  (Key concept)
    • Related keywords / additional Subject and Thesaurus terms

You will need to use different combinations of terms as you search across the different search engines and databases. Check an available thesaurus for additional keywords and subject terms.

Sample Search Log

Recommended: Keep a record of your search - or at least those searches that resulted in items you could use for your project.

Sample Literature Search Log

(For a larger view of this chart, right click and open in a new tab).

Collecting Your Research - STOP

STOP (Stop your research, Take a moment to Organize and Pull together your project materials)

You've just spent an hour (or six) searching for and downloading materials. It is critical you take a moment to organize everything you just collected. You may have articles, citations, data, search strategies, quotations, notes, and/or more.

  • Put everything from one project in one place. This could be folder on your computer, a physical folder on your shelf and/or a folder in a citation management system. If you are working on two different papers or projects copy the materials that will be used for both into both locations.
  • Create an identifying label. Label your folders so they match with your project and you can find them when you need them.
  • Document. Even if you use a citation management program (e.g., RefWorks), you may want to create a separate bibliography (especially if you found quotations you may want to use later) and/or a separate document that includes the databases you searched and the search strategies (or the keywords) you used.

You may find it helpful to sort your findings within the folder:

  • Background (everything you collected and read - but did not use)
  • Maybe (items that you haven't decided on)
  • Used/Yes (items that will become part of your paper/article/research project)