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SOC 236: Criminology (WO): Search Strategy

Identify Keywords

To perform searches, you will need keywords.



Let's practice brainstorming keywords by looking at a sample topic... What are the most common sources of guns used in crimes?

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. 

What are the most common sources of guns used in crimes?

When you eliminate the irrelevant words from your research question, you should be able to spot major concepts.  The three major concepts in our example are sources, guns and crime.

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

Sources - family, gun shops, gun shows, black market, gangs, illegal

Guns - firearms, handguns

Crimes - homicide, robbery, gun violence

Create a Search Strategy

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


1.      "black market" AND guns AND homicide

2.      illegal AND firearms AND "gun violence"

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 guns AND homicide returns articles that talk about both.
  • Use OR to look for synonyms or related ideas.  OR looks for either term, so a search for guns OR firearms will return results that talk about either of these related ideas.
  • Use NOT to specify words that should not be included in the article.
  • Use quotation marks [“ “] to search for phrases.  "gun violence" and "black market" are good examples.
  • Use an asterisk [*] for truncation.

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.