Develop your search methodology

Depending on the stage you are at in your research, or your search objective, a variety of different types of searches may be appropriate across the course of your research. Consider the search methodology below as a way to ensure effective and efficient searches.

  1. Preliminary searching
  2. Browsing journals
  3. Comprehensive searching
  4. Cited reference searching
  5. Limiting - a search process technique used in the types of searching
  6. Sustaining - with alerts

Steps in the search process

Once you have formulated your research question, you are ready to start searching. A well organised search ensures that information is efficiently and comprehensively retrieved and involves the following steps:

  • identify your research question, synonyms and relevant subject headings (specific word/group of words used to describe the content of articles/books, which are assigned by indexers using a controlled vocabulary)
  • consider the types of information required to answer the question including peer reviewed articles, books, conference papers and reference texts
  • use appropriate search tools to find relevant and accurate information including library catalogues, journal databases and internet search tools
  • design appropriate search statements and operators, including Boolean operators, phrase and proximity searching, truncation and wildcards
  • limit the results of your search appropriately and organise your records using bibliographic management software.

Unpacking the search process

Consider the search process in terms of four questions that need to be answered:

  1. What are you researching? What are the key terms and synonyms that define your question? Are there subject terms that encompass the identified concepts? What type of information is important in your discipline area? For example, journal articles, conference papers, definitions from dictionaries etc.
  2. Where will you search? Which tools will you use to find information? Will you use Library Search and Google Scholar to get started to get a sense of how others describe your topic area?
  3. How will you express your search terms in the search tools? How will you construct your search statements and which search techniques will you use?
  4. How well did your search retrieve results? Evaluate and broaden or narrow your search.

The literature review

A good literature review requires an effective and comprehensive literature search. The process of developing an effective search methodology will assist you to do your literature review required for your Stage 2/research proposal.

A literature review is an evaluative report of information found in the literature related to your selected area of study. The review should describe, summarise, evaluate and clarify this literature. It should give a theoretical base for the research and help you (the author) determine the nature of your research. A good literature review should:

  • find what information already exist in your field of research
  • identify the gaps in the literature
  • find experts working in your field
  • identify major seminal works
  • identify main methodologies and research techniques
  • identify main ideas, theories and conclusions and establish similarities and differences
  • provide a context for your own research
  • show relationships between previous studies and theories.

Writing the literature review allows you to demonstrate skills in the areas of information seeking, evaluation and critical appraisal.

Defining search terms

The first step in the process of searching is to identify the key concepts from your research question or search objectives. These concepts describe the kinds of information you need to investigate in order to answer your research question. Consider the concepts in the context of key readings you are already aware of or search around the topic generally before commencing serious research. A concept or mind map can help explore your topic and clarify the logic of these concepts and illustrate their relationships. You should also consider the different search objectives you might have relevant to the different sections of your thesis or stages of your research.

Example of a concept map: A concept map puts the main topic in the centre of the map and graphically represents the major concepts that relate to the main topic.