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SPE 3370 Introduction to Developmental Disabilities: Search Strategies

Creating your search strategy

Create your search strategy based on your thesis statement.

  • Think about the concepts, keywords and synonyms that describe your topic. 
  • Sample topic: How do school gardens benefit students?
    • school:    primary, k-12, high school
    • gardens:   kitchen gardens, schoolyard gardens
    • benefit:     effect, impact
  • Can't think of anything besides the words in your research statement?  Start with those you have. 
  • Searching for articles?  Most databases have a Thesaurus.  You can view recommended and/or alternate terms.

What type of information do you want?

  • Books, articles, websites? 
    • Some tools contain a mix of resources like books, articles, and websites.  Some search more narrowly. 
  • Current or historical?  Scholarly?  Qualitative or Quantitative?  Statistics?  Primary or secondary?
    • Depending on the tool, you may be able to include this aspect within the search statement.
  • Does the tool have Limit or Refine options?  Does it allow you to sort by publication year?


Select a discipline-specific database

  • Think about your topic.  Who would be interested in it?  Educators, Psychologists, Sociologists or Multidisciplinary?
  • Find databases based on subject areas here:  Browse all Databases
    • Click on related broad Subjects to see recommended databases.  For example, Education to then search Education Source and ERIC - the two key education databases.
    • Logging in from off-campus?  You'll be asked to authenticate.  Follow the prompts.

Enter your search

  • Use the Advanced Search option.  It gives you more control in search techniques.
  • Search tip:  Use these tools when structuring your search:    and     or      *      "  "
    • Use     if the word has multiple endings -   effect*    would retrieve effects, effective, effecting
    • Use  "  "  to search for a phrase -   "higher education"
    • AND  between terms finds articles with both terms; OR  finds articles with any or all terms


  • Sample topic: How is ADHD impacted by diet?
  • An Advanced Search would look like this:

Database search options vary.  Explore:

  • Thesaurus - See how terms are defined within a database  
  • Field Searching - The default search is broad. You can change the field in which your term is searched.
    • Search Tip:  Changing the search field can help to narrow down your search results.
    • Try changing the field search to the TI (title), AB (abstract), SU (subject) and many more.
    • What are the field definitions?  They differ.  See the database help screens for details.


  • Limits - Review the options within your discipline's core databases.
    • You can Limit your search results to only Scholarly (Peer-reviewed)
    • Search Tip:  Are you new to this topic?  Don't Limit to Scholarly at first.  Read the abstracts of articles even if they aren't scholarly.  You can learn about the topic.  Then Limit to Scholarly.

Examining and refining what you've found:

  • Browse through the titles and read the abstracts of related articles.  Are the search results relevant?  
    • If yes, note the subject, keyword, or descriptor terms.  You can use those in another search.
    • If no, tweak your search using newly identified terms.
    • Also search in another database. 
      • Note:  Is the database in a different discipline?  Consider that the terms may need to be changed.  Ex.:  "Primary" would be different in an education and political science database.
    • Search tip:  You can search multiple databases at one time.  See Note above.

Education Librarian

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Jennifer Woods
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Belk Library and Information Commons, 037A
(828) 262-8160