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PSY 211: Research Methodology/Behavioral Sci. (WO): Search Strategy

Identify Keywords

To perform searches, you will need keywords.



Let's practice brainstorming keywords by looking at a sample topic... How does aging affect one's ability to recognize emotional expressions?

First we'll eliminate irrelevant words.  The databases will search for every word that you type into the searchbox, so try to keep your search simple - just a few words. 

How does aging affect one's ability to recognize emotional expressions?

When you eliminate the irrelevant words from your research question, you should be able to spot major concepts.  The two major concepts in our example are aging, recognize, and emotional expressions.

Now, let's take each of those and come up with as many synonyms (or related ideas) as we can.

aging – older, seniors, old age

recognize - recognition, process, perceive, cognition, brain

emotional expressions – emotion, emotional, vocalization, facial expressions

Create a Search Strategy

Next, combine any one of the keywords from each group using AND. 


1.       aging AND perception AND emotion

2.       "old age" AND recognize AND "facial expressions"

3.       aging AND brain AND emotion

Different combinations of search terms will give you very different results, so you may want to try several different search strategies to see which gives you the best results.

Advanced Searching

Sometimes, advanced search techniques can save you time and get you better results than a simple search with two keywords and AND.

To create an advanced search strategy...

  • Use AND to connect concepts. AND finds both terms, so a search for underemployment AND poverty returns articles that talk about both.
  • Use OR to look for synonyms or related ideas.  OR looks for either term, so a search for underemployment OR "part-time jobs" will return results that talk about either of these related ideas.
  • Use NOT to specify words that should not be included in the article. A search for poverty NOT homelessness would find articles that only talk about poverty but never mention homelessness.
  • Use quotation marks [“ “] to search for phrases. A search for minimum wage will automatically look for the terms minimum and wage, but they may not appear beside each other.  For example, "Alexander was able to wage war with deft strategy and keep his losses to a minimum."  This article about Alexander the Great is not at all useful for our paper on poverty.
  • Use an asterisk [*] for truncation. For example, use child* to search for child, children or childhood - any word that begins with c-h-i-l-d.

Finally, you can combine these techniques to create an advanced strategy.  You may have to try several searches to see what works best for your topic.

Example 1:  aging AND perception AND emotion*

Example 2:  (aging OR "old age") AND recogni* AND "facial expressions"

Now, try to form a few search strategies for your own topic!