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Research Guides

ENGL 299 / NUTR 200 Nutritional Sciences: Search Strategy Tips

Carrie R. Matthews Autumn 2020 - Food Sovereignty

Design Search Strategy

Your Assignment:
Develop a research project focusing on Indigenous food sovereignty, environmental justice, and nutritional issues.

One of the more important processes in conducting research is designing a search strategy. You should use your search strategy when using library search tools/databases. The following are things to consider in designing your strategy:

  1. Analyze your topic
    • It is important to clarify what you are interested in finding out about your topic; familiarize yourself with the key issues and context.  Begin by creating a research question.

      Your research question may evolve and change over time. Sometimes using a format to phrase your question helps: I’m researching _____ to investigate _____ in order to understand _____. This structure give you a way to keep your question narrow, identifying just the area that you are studying and helping your reader position the question within a field.


    • You may need to find information in different kinds of sources
      [ Books | Journals | Newspapers | Magazines | Media (images, video, sound recordings)]

    • You may need to use more than one library tool (database, etc.)
      [ Some examples: Sociological Abstract | Academic Search Complete | P.A.I.S.Index | UW Libraries Search]

    • You may need to explore a subject over a period of time
      [ For example: 5 years | 20 years | 1960s | 19th Century | 20th Century |Current ]


  2. Select Keywords
    • Create a list of Related Terms. Another way to express this, is to create a list of synonyms for the important concepts in or associated with your topic.
    • Narrower terms: (Good for limiting your search, excluding irrelevant information, or adding focus to your search)
      • Population -gender (men, women), age (children/teens, adults, elderly), groups (artist, educators, politicians, clergy, ethnic/racial groups, etc.)
      • Geography - towns, cities, states, countries, regions
      • Time Period - current, decade, 21st Century, ancient
      • Broader terms: (Allow you to explore the broader context of your topic. Good if you're having difficulty finding sources)
  3. Create a Search Query

    Many of our databases or search tools require that you use AND or OR to combine multiple terms/keywords in a search. See examples below:

    • American Indians AND food sovereignty (narrows your search, all the terms 'American Indians and food sovereignty' must appear)
    • American Indians OR Native Americans (broadens your search, one of the terms must appear. Good for use with synonyms.)
    • food sovereignty AND (American Indians OR Native Americans) (combines connectors AND/OR together in a search)
    • Use a technique called truncation with the * symbol to search additional forms of a word when using a search tool or database.

      Example: politic* will also find politic, political, politically, politician, politicians, politics.

      American Indians AND politic*

      Be aware that the truncation symbol may vary depending on the database (*,#,?,!) are the most common.


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