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Search Strategy worksheet

Conducting research worksheet

  1. Research Topic or Question

Write your research topic or question.



  1. Key Concepts and Search Terms

Examine your research topic or question. What are the main concepts?

How can these concepts be expressed differently?

Sample topic: What is the impact of economic recovery on social services to the poor?

Search Terms

(main concepts + synonyms, alternate phrasing, abbreviations, etc.

Concept #1

economic recovery

Concept #2

social services

Concept #3






  1. Preliminary Search Statement

Use the chart to help you create a search statement. As a general rule, incorporate no more than

2 or 3 concepts into the statement.

Use appropriate “boolean” connectors (and, or, not) to combine search terms and phrases.

Example: econom* and (social services or social policy) and (poor or poverty)



  1. Determine the scope or limits of your research (how much of “the literature” am I searching through?):


  • Publication Dates:         ______________________________________________________

  • Language(s):         ______________________________________________________

  • Types of sources:    See table below.

Document Type

Useful For

Find Using


Overviews of topics

Catalogue (books, gov pubs)


Books @ Scholars Portal

Reference books

Introduction to a topic; overview of themes and methodologies

Catalogue (books, gov pubs)


Articles (scholarly and popular); Literature reviews

Latest research on a topic

Discovery (books, gov pubs, articles)

Databases e.g. Journals @ Scholars Portal, Social Sciences Abstracts, CBCA, CPI.Q

 Dissertations / Theses

Current; comprehensive literature reviews

Proquest Dissertations & Theses

MacSphere (McMaster’s Institutional Repository)

Conferences papers

Unpublished and forthcoming research

Web of Science database

Search Engines

Government information

Legislation, policies, reports, etc.

Catalogue (books, gov pubs)


Canadian Public Documents Collection

Search Engines



Statistics Canada

CANSIM database

Search Engines

Newspaper articles

Current information


Lexis Nexis, Factiva

Search Engines

  1. Determine the resources you will use to conduct your research. Explore a Database.
  • Does the database have a thesaurus (list of subject terms used to classify and organize information; shows relationships between terms)?
  • How many years does it cover?
  • Can I isolate review articles?
  • Can I search by a particular methodology e.g. participatory research?

  1. Evaluate and select your sources
    1. Start with established or seminal articles or works (consult with your supervisor).
    2. Evaluation criteria

Content: What are the key contributions of the item for the topic? What limitations should be noted? How does it relate to other works?

Accuracy: Are there any grammatical or spelling errors? How comprehensive is the coverage?

Authority: Who is the author? Credentials? To what extent is the work cited by others?

Objectivity: Assess the point of view. Is there a bias on the part of the publisher, author or organization? Is the work fair, balanced and reasonable? Can you determine any conflict of interest?

Currency: Is it important to have recent information for this topic? When was the item written? When was the content last updated?

  1. Cite your sources accurately and consistently. A citation management tool can help!

O. Perkovic, Fall 2019

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