Skip to Main Content

How do I: Create a search strategy

Primary and Secondary Sources

Will I need primary sources?

What are they?

  • firsthand or eyewitness accounts
  • have the character of origin or 'firstness'
  • not limited to unpublished materials
  • that which secondary sources interpret and are built upon

Where can I find primary sources?

Primary Source Guide

Knowing Your Topic

First, determine the question that is guiding your research on your chosen topic.

Collect the most prominent words that you think represent your topic.

Developing a Search Strategy

  1. Once you have chosen a topic, write it down in the form of a question or brief statement:
    What is the relationship between SAT scores and college success?
  2. Underline the key words and phrases that are most specific to your topic.
    What is the relationship between SAT scores and college success?
  3. Write down each key word or phrase, and underneath it, list synonyms or related terms.
    Use a dictionary or thesaurus to find additional keywords. For example:


    • scholastic aptitude test


    • university


    • achievement
  4. Think about the singular, plural, and other endings of words and write down the root of the word.
    • SAT
    • scholastic aptitude test
    • college, colleges -- college
    • university, universities -- universit
    • success, successful, succeed -- succe
    • achievement, achieve, achiever -- achieve
  5. Write down your key words and phrases along with their synonyms in the form of a Boolean search statement. Use the root word, and truncate it with an asterisk (*). Note: Different databases use different truncation or wildcard symbols. Check the database's help page. For example:

    (SAT or scholastic aptitude test) and (college* or universit*) and (succe* or achieve*)


Avoid phrases whenever posssible.


If your topic should be "Congressional partisanship during the presidency of Bill Clinton",
you could use any or all of the following keywords connected in this way with "and": congress* and partisan* and clinton and presiden*

You are ready to enter your seach phrase into a database to find books, journal articles, newspaper stories or other sources of information. To find the best databases for your topic, go to the library home page and choose Research by Subject. For more tips on using the databases, go here.