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Tertiary Access Course Guide: Research Skills

Keys to effective research

Research is a process. Plan your search, try some different search strategies and evaluate the results. There is no one 'perfect search' and you may need to revisit the 6 Steps to Searching many times before finding the sources most relevant to your needs. Allow plenty of time for searching, and see a librarian if you need help.



Identifying the key concepts

The first step is to work out what your assignment topic is about and what you have to do. Consider the context and identify the keywords in your question. These can be:

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

Content words:Content words are the main ideas and concepts you need to research.

Limiting words: Limiting words help you focus on a particular aspect of your topic, such as a particular occupation, discipline, age, gender or time.

Identifying related terms

You will get better search results if you expand your list of keywords to include related terms. Drawing a mindmap can be a good way to brainstorm ideas. These could be:

  • synonyms (words with a similar meaning)
  • alternative spellings (eg. American)
  • related terms - even antonyms (opposites) sometimes work well!

Phrase searching & Truncation

Phrase searching

When searching for two or more words together, place these words in double quotation marks. This forces the search tool to search for them in that exact order, eg. "social effects", "secondary school", "mental health".


Truncation will save you time. Place an asterix at the end of the root word to get results for this word with different endings.

 eg. develop* = develop, develops, developed, developing, development etc.   

Creating a search string

Use AND and OR to create a search string that will return relevant results.

AND combines different concepts, eg. burnout AND teacher* AND "secondary school"

OR combines similar and related terms for the same concept. Place these terms in parentheses (round brackets), eg. (burnout OR stress OR "mental health") 

A sample search string might look like this:

(burnout OR stress OR "mental health") AND teacher* AND ("high school" OR "secondary school")

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