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Health Economics

Creating a search strategy

Your online guide to finding resources for your research

Planning your search

Creating an effective search strategy will help ensure that you find the key material to support your research.

Good planning will:

  • ensure you find the key material

  • be helpful when you find too much information, or not enough

  • be helpful when you don't retrieve the results you expect.

Spending time thinking about your search topic, considering keywords and devising a strategy will improve the quality of your results, and save you time in the long run.


Image: 7rains

Step 1: Identify parameters of your search

Before you start your literature search it is a good idea to spend some time defining what you want, and what you don’t want. This will enable you to set the parameters of your search and ensure that you are more focused on the information sources you need to locate to support your research.

You may find it helpful to think about the purpose, types of information and limiters to frame you research. Details on each of these areas are provided below:

Purpose, types of information & limiters image

Step 2: Identify key concepts

Think about your research topic as a question or series of questions.

Identify the keywords and phrases from the question.

Think of possible synonyms and related terms for each of your key concepts. Consider using broader and narrower terms relating to your topic.

If you are having difficulties identifying related terms you may find it useful to look up a term in a thesaurus. Background and reference sources such as encyclopaedias and dictionaries can also prove useful when you are identifying search terms.

Management word cloud

Step 3: Truncation and Wildcards

Electronic information resources, such as abstracting and indexing databases, journal collections and search engines, will often allow you to make use of certain search commands that will improve the effectiveness of your search. By inserting the specific symbols either at the end or in the middle of your search terms in place of a character you can search for variations of a word.  

Use a truncation symbol (often *) to search for variant endings. For example, econom* will find economy, economics, economical etc.

Use a wildcard symbol (often ?) to replace any single letter within or at the end of a word to search for variant spellings of words or plurals. For example, organi?ation will find either organisation or organization.    

Always check the online help for the electronic resource you are using to find out the truncation and wildcard symbols.

Step 4: Combine your search terms

Combine your search terms using AND/OR

AND combines search terms so that each search result contains all of the terms used. For example, Health AND Economics finds results that contain both terms. This makes your search narrower.

OR combines search terms so that each search result contains at least one of the terms. For example, Health OR Economics finds results that contain either term. This makes your search broader.

Step 5: Conduct your search

You will need to conduct your search on a number of different electronic information resources. The resources you select to search will depend on the type of information you need to support your research. You will need to conduct a number of searches on a given database. Perform a search, analyse the results you are finding, and modify your search as necessary.  

At every stage you should aim to evaluate the information you find, to ensure that it is suitable for your purpose. It is also crucial to keep full records of any potentially useful references.