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Planning your search

A guide to the steps involved in planning an effective search for information.

Understanding the nature of your search

A search for information can range from a very quick search using one or more search terms, through to a complex search strategy carried out across multiple resources in order to feel confident you have retrieved everything on the topic.

The extent of your search should be related to the context and need.

Consider the task ahead of you:

  • If working on an assignment, consider what you have been asked to do, what types of information will be appropriate to inform the assignment, and how extensive your search should be to retrieve enough information for the task.
  • If working on independent research it's likely that you will want to do a more extensive search and may wish to feel confident that you have identified all relevant sources of information, for example, if you are undertaking a literature review or systematic review.

Know when to stop:

  • If you have enough high quality material to inform your assignment, including some key sources, it may be time to stop searching for more.
  • If you are no longer finding out anything new to inform your piece of work, it is probably not worth searching for more.
  • If you are trying to identify all information on a topic and are confident that your search strategy will have retrieved everything relevant, there is no point introducing more search terms that might just retrieve references outside the scope of your search.

Then consider the types of information that will be relevant to your search topic, and where to find that type of information.