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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"
    • "age of enlightenment"
    • "tokugawa shogunate"
  • 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
    • shogun* will find shogun, shoguns, shogunate, shogunates
    • aborigin* will find aboriginal, aborigine, aboriginality, aborigines, aboriginals

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

What is your assignment topic asking you to do?

Task words are usually verbs and they tell you what to do to complete your assignment.

You need to identify these words, because you will need to follow these instructions to pass the 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.  Make sure you know exactly what you need to do for your assignment.

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

The task words from our sample question are:

Handwashing has been shown to dramatically reduce the spread of viruses. Summarise the role handwashing plays in public health and discuss appropriate methods for implementing a handwashing regime in one of the following industries: hospitality, child care or patient care.

  • 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 give a short description of what handwashing is all about, and then offer an evaluation of different handwashing regimes.

The content words are the "meat" of the question - these are things you can research.

Handwashing has been shown to dramatically reduce the spread of viruses. Summarise the role handwashing plays in public health and discuss appropriate methods for implementing a handwashing regime in one of the following industries: hospitalitychild care or patient care.

You will often be asked to talk about "the role" something plays or "methods" and "implementations" - but you can't really research these things.

You need to find the keywords - the most concrete concepts - and search for those.  The information you find about the concrete terms will tell you about the "roles" and "methods", but they probably won't use those words exactly.

One of the core skills of academic research is learning to extrapolate:  to find the connections in the information you can find that will help you answer the questions which don't have clear, cut-and-dry answers in the books and articles.

So, the core keywords/concepts to research are:

  • handwashing
  • "public health"
  • handwashing regime(s)
  • hospitality (industry)
  • child care (industry)
  • patient care (industry)

Limiting words keep you focused on a particular area, and stop you from trying to research everything in the history of mankind.

They could limit you by:

  • Time (you may be asked to focus on the last 5 years, or the late 20th Century, for example)
  • Place (you may be asked to focus on Australia, or Queensland, or South-East Asia)
  • People groups (such as "women over the age of 50" or "people from low socio-economic backgrounds" or "Australians of Asian descent")
  • Extent (you are only to look at a particular area, or the details you believe are most relevant or appropriate).

Handwashing has been shown to dramatically reduce the spread of viruses. Summarise the role handwashing plays in public health and discuss appropriate methods for implementing a handwashing regime in one of the following industries: hospitality, child care or patient care.

In this example, you have two limits:

  • "Appropriate methods" - this means you don't have to look at every method, just a few of the most appropriate ones.
  • "In one of the following industries" - you only look at whatever is relevant to one industry chosen from the list.

Sometimes it can help to add your own limits.  With health sciences, you almost always limit your research to the last five or six years.  You could specifically look at the Australian context.  You may decide to focus on the private sector within that industry.

Sometimes an assignment task will give you phrases or sentences that aren't part of the task at all:  they exist to give you some context.

These can be ignored when you do your research, but you should read over them occasionally as you are writing your assignment.  They help you know what the lecturer was thinking about (and wanted you to think about) when they set that task.

Handwashing has been shown to dramatically reduce the spread of viruses.  Summarise the role handwashing plays in public health and discuss appropriate methods for implementing a handwashing regime in one of the following industries: hospitality, child care or patient care.

You don't have to do anything with the first sentence of this question - but it does get you to think specifically about the "spread of viruses" - something that isn't mentioned in the task itself.

Obviously, whoever wrote the task wants you to think about the spread of viruses.

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

Boolean explained

When you use more than one keyword or phrase the search engine needs to know how to combine them in sets. You can do this with Boolean Operators AND, OR, and NOT. When these operators connect your keywords they either broaden or narrow your search.


AND: finds records that with all the keywords words specified. It is the most common operator and many search engines use it as a default setting. Strawberry AND Vanilla AND Chocolate retrieves all the records that contain Strawberry, Vanilla and Chocolate. It narrows your search.
OR: finds records that contain either or both of the words specified. It is useful for finding synonyms or where different words are of equal value in your search. Strawberry OR Chocolate OR Vanilla retrieves records that contain either or all Strawberry, Chocolate and Vanilla. It broadens your search. Be aware of spelling variations between British and American English and try alternatives in your search sets. For example: colour OR color.
NOT: finds records with only the first two of the three terms. (Strawberry OR Vanilla) NOT Chocolate retrieves records with Strawberry and/or Vanilla but excludes those records containing Chocolate. It narrows your search but should be used with care as it can easily exclude relevant results.
You can create more complex search strategies using parentheses. For example: Ice-cream AND (Chocolate OR Vanilla). Searching for exact phrases using Inverted commas can also provide a more accurate search result. For example: "chocolate ice-cream". Truncation symbols such as * and ? can be used to find words with the same root, so that plurals and other variations of a word are included. For example: A search for sweet* finds sweets, sweetener, sweeter etc

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