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BA1001: Time, Truth, and the Human Condition Guide: Develop Your Search Strategy

JCU Library and The Learning Centre resources to help you with your BA1001 assessment tasks


Breaking down your assignment topic will help you with your research and keep you on target to answer the assignment question

Searching tips and tricks to save you time

Before you begin searching

Determine your topic keywords

Develop a search strategy

  • Combining words: Most search tools (e.g. One Search, Google, many databases) assume AND between your keywords
  • Phrase searching: put your phrase (two or more words) in "inverted commas"
    • "cultural revolution"
    • "Treaty of Waitangi"
    • "social media"
  • Finding words with different spelling: Replace letters in word with a wildcard symbol - usually a ?
    • globali?ation will find globalization and globalisation
    • wom?n will find woman and women
    • ste???n will find stephen and steven and stephan
  • Finding words with multiple endings: Use an * at the end of the word stem
    • prehist* will find prehistory, prehistories, prehistoric
    • teach* will find teach, teaches, teachers

Combining strategies

  • france AND "age of enlightenment"
  • "mao zedong" OR "chairman mao" OR "mao tse tung"
  • america AND ("vietnam war" OR "second indochina war" OR "resistance war against america")
Analysing results:
  • Too many results: add more keywords, add date or other limits
  • Too few results: simplify your search - remove keywords

Words, words, words...

Task words are usually verbs and they tell you what to do to complete your assignment. As you research and write your assignment, check these words occasionally to make sure you are still doing what you have been asked to do.

Here are some definitions of different academic task words

Don't try to use them in your research - they aren't things to find, only things to do.

The task words in our sample question are summarise and discuss.

  • Summarise means to "describe something concisely"
  • Discuss means to "consider and offer an interpretation or evaluation of something; or give a judgment on the value of arguments for and against something"

So, you would need to briefly explain what handwashing is and then evaluate some different handwashing strategies.

Content words are the main ideas and concepts in the question. You can use them in your search and to generate similar and related search terms.

The content words in our sample question are handwashing or handwashing regime, methods and public health.

You may or may not choose to use methods as a search term as leaving it out will still return results that include methods, however you may wish to include it to focus your search if you are getting too many results. The word "methods" is likely to be too generic, anyway. A much better approach would be to brainstorm actual methods and use those for your search terms, rather than the word "methods"

You probably won't use public health as a search term, as the question  instructs you to research one industry within public health. Check what these areas are using the Limiting Words tab. But think about related terms like "viruses" that can be more applicable.


Limiting words allow you to focus on a particular aspect of the topic, and prevent your search from being too general and unwieldy.

Limits include:

  • Time, eg. Last 5 years, 20th century
  • Place, eg. Australia, South-East Asia
  • People groups, eg. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, women over the age of 50 

The limiting words in the sample question are hospitality, child care, patient care. You are asked to choose only one industry from this list. You would include one of these as a search term.

You should also limit your research to appropriate handwashing methods. You won't include appropriate as a search term but you could use a similar term like effective.

Context words or sentences provide the setting or background for your research question.

In our example, the first sentence provides context - Handwashing has been shown to dramatically reduce the spread of viruses.

You may or may not choose to include context words in your search. For example, you could include virus or infection control as part of your search string, or you could simply keep the context in mind when selecting relevant articles.

It is easy to get distracted and go off on tangents when doing your research. Refer to the context words to help keep your focus where it should be.

Working with keywords

Before you can successfully search catalogues, databases and the Internet you will need to develop a good search strategy.

This involves the following steps:

  • Identify the keywords and synonyms for your assignment topic
  • Create an effective search string using boolean basics, truncation and phrase searching
  • Evaluate and refine results

Click across the tabs on this box to explore the basic building blocks of constructing a good search.

Before we begin searching, we need to make sure we have already come up with the appropriate keywords to use.  Keywords are identified when we unpack the question which form the main ideas and concepts for our research. 

Keywords will help us find the information we are looking for.  If you still have to come up with your keywords, head to Defining Your Topic module, to help you get started.



TIP:  Keep an eye out for new keywords once you begin searching.

Boolean Operators are the words AND, OR and NOT.  When these words are used between keywords in a search string, results are more relevant to your topic which will save you time.

Trucation is a way to efficiently broaden your searches and saves you time. 

To truncate a keyword is to remove the ending of the word and add an asterisk (*) in its place.  Be sure to end the word at the most appropriate place so to retrieve relevant and useful results. 

Educat* =











but also:



Tip: Be careful where you insert the asterisk (*)

undefinedToo soon in the word can retrieve irrelevant results

Too late in the word can miss useful results


Phrase searching is a powerful, easy to use tool that will save you time.

When keywords are a phrase (combination of two or more words), use "quotation" marks to lock them together.  This will ensure that the search results will find information related to those words combined, in that same order and not search for each word individually.

For example: 

  • "duty of care"
  • "code of conduct"
  • "global warming"


Search strings are a combination of your keywords, truncation and boolean operators.  An effective search string can save you time by returning accurate results faster.

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