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The Writing Guide

Planning, researching, writing, referencing and drafting your assignments

Six steps to research success

Think of Research as a Six Step process:

1. Break down your keywords. Go back to the question and make sure you've found your keywords (revisit the Words Words Words box in Step 1 of the Writing Process). Remember, a keyword will be a concrete concept - the "meat" in the sandwich. For a phrase like "Discuss the economic impact of divorce on families" the words divorce and families are concrete concepts, and you will need to search for economic, but you can't search for impact - it would be meaningless.

2. Find synonyms, variations and related concepts for your keywords. You may have different spellings (pediatric OR paediatric), (behavior OR behaviour). You may have synonymous words or phrases (tumour OR neoplasm), (heartburn OR "gastric reflux"). You should use tools like Credo, dictionaries, thesauri - or even Wikipedia - to help you find more words (and don't forget to ask other people for ideas). You will combine these with an "OR" (see the section on Search Strategy, below).

3. Look for options for truncation and phrase searching. The English language puts a lot of grammatical information at the end of words. You can often truncate (shorten) the word at the point where it changes and put a symbol (usually an *, but sometimes another symbol like a $ or ?) to say "find everything that starts with this" (e.g. scrub* will find scrubs, scrubbed, scrubbing, etc). Truncation can get you a wider range of results. If you have words that belong together as a phrase, you can wrap them in "quotation marks" to tell the search tool to look for them side-by-side (e.g. "public health" or "constraint induced movement therapy"). Phrase searching will get you more on-topic results. Please note you usually can't use truncation and phrase searching at the same time.

4. Work out what your limits are. Are you only looking for research from the past five years? Or are you only interesting in results about children, or humans (no animal studies)? Maybe you only want results from Australia? Perhaps you only want to find a particular type of article (like a randomised controlled trial)? Work out what the scope of your search needs to be.

5. Put together a search strategy. Remember, you are working with computers. Use operators such as AND, OR and NOT, as well as your truncation marks and phrase searching, to create a "sum" that the search tool can use to calculate what results to show you. You'll find more information about that on the Working with Keywords page.

6. Look at the results you have and make changes to your search. You won't find everything with one perfect search strategy (it doesn't exist), so you may have to change your search several times - or break it up into chunks. Do your search, think about it, do another search. See what you find using different search strategies and keywords, and using different databases.


Six Steps to searching: 1 Find Keywords, 2 Brainstorm synonyms, 3 find opportunities to us truncation and phrase serching, 4 determine limits, 5 put together a search strategy, 6 evaluate results and repeat the process from an informed perspective

Credo for definitions

Credo is one of our databases. It contains reference works like dictionaries, encyclopedias and handbooks.

You can use Credo to find a subject specific dictionary for your area (to help you understand the terminology used in your discipline), and to find alternative words for your searches. It can also create "concept maps" to show you linkages to other topics and ideas

critical thinking concept map

This is a detailed image of a Credo concept map. Click on the map to go to the Credo concept map search screen for critical thinking.  Use this feature to help you identify concepts/keywords for you topic.  Try out some other searches while you are there.

Credo Search

Credo Logo

Credo is an easy-to-use tool for starting research. Use this box to search hundreds of full-text reference titles, as well as 500,000+ images and audio files and over 1,000 videos.

Resources within this database include:

  • Encyclopaedias
  • Dictionaries
  • Biographies
  • Quotations
  • Bilingual Dictionaries

Getting started - journal articles

Photo of hiking track signThere are some really good databases available for finding information, it is best to consult your Subject Guide to find the best ones. There are also some pretty good generic databases that cover most topics studied at JCU, we would recommend getting started with the following:

It is a very good idea to go through the online tutorials before you start searching to get an idea of how to navigate around a particular database.

Photo: walkCN1692.jpg by clarita

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Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) 4.0 International License. Content from this Guide should be attributed to James Cook University Library. This does not apply to images, third party material (seek permission from the original owner) or any logos or insignia belonging to JCU or other bodies, which remain All Rights Reserved.