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College Composition

Search Strategy Steps

  1. Identify Your Key Concepts
  2. Brainstorm Synonyms and Related Terms
  3. Link Your Concepts Together
  4. Search, Evaluate Results and Search Again

1. Identify Key Concepts

Example Research Question 

How might coastal communities manage the need for relocation due to sea level rise?

Key Concept 1: Coastal Communities

Key Concept 2: Relocation

Key Concept 3: Sea Level Rise

2. Brainstorm Synonyms and Related Terms


  • Synonyms (other words that mean the same thing)
  • Specific examples of your key concept (For example: Pepsi or Coke for Soda, Facebook or Snapchat for Social Media)
  • Related terms (concepts, people, events, things, or etc.)


  Coastal Communities  Sea Level Rise Relocation
Keyword 1 Towns Climate Change Retreat
Keyword 2 Tribes Fluvial Flooding  Migration
Keyword 3


Keyword 4 Florida Coast    


3. Link Your Concepts Together

Link your concepts together in an advanced search using "And," "Or" and "Not" Boolean operators:

4. Search, Evaluate, Search Again!

Evaluate Your Results
  • Are they relevant?
  • Are there too many?  
  • Are there too few?
  • Are there any keywords you missed that are relevant?
  • Are there any subject terms that you could search with?
Search and Search Again!
  • Results not relevant? Try alternate search terms, terms from an article you found that you think are more relevant, or subject headings.
  • Too many results? Either add terms with an "And" or limit your results by date.
  • Too few results? Search alternate expressions with "Or" or try some of your other search terms.

Search Strategy Worksheet

The worksheet below will walk you through the steps of creating a search strategy and searching for resources of different types.

Coming Soon