Conducting a Literature Review: Search Strategy

Interactive learning module that guides you through the process of identifying, evaluating, and using scholarly information to research and write a literature review. URL:


After completing this section, you will be able to develop a research strategy using keywords, synonyms, and related terms to retrieve information related to your topic.

  • Read about developing search strategies.
  • Review the materials linked in the Resources box to learn more about searching.
  • Watch the videos to learn more about combining synonyms to search smarter and faster.
  • Create a search strategy that you might use in a database with the Search Strategy Builder in the Activity box.

Develop a Search Strategy

Your concept map or topic worksheet should have helped you to identify key terms that you can use to search for information that relates to your topic. In the previous section, you learned how to identify and select different types of resources, and you practiced selecting a database appropriate to your topic. 

Most databases allow you to combine multiple terms to find the articles that most closely match your specific topic. By combining terms in your search, you get fewer results, but your search results will be more relevant to your topic.

Remember, you should begin by writing your topic as a research question. For example,

How does video game violence affect children?

Next, you should identify the key concepts in your research question.

How does  violence in video games affect children?

Because authors do not always use the same terms to describe specific concepts, it is helpful to think of some synonyms for these terms before you begin to search:

Concept 1     Concept 2 Concept 3
  violence             video games   children             
  violent   computer games   child


Search Strategy Builder

The Search Strategy Builder is a tool designed to teach you how to create a search string using Boolean logic. While it is not a database and is not designed to input a search, you should be able to cut and paste the results into most databases’ search boxes.

Brainstorm keywords related to your topic, then enter your search statement here. For example: (violence or violent) and (video games or computer games) and (children or child)

  Concept 1 AND Concept 2 AND Concept 3
Name your core concepts here    
Search terms Search terms Search terms

List alternate terms for each concept.

These can be synonyms, or they can be specific examples of the concept.

You can use single words, or phrases with quotation marks,
or truncated words with the *










The Search Strategy Builder was developed by the University of Arizona Libraries(CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 US).

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