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CD-724 Research Design and Statistics

Building a Search Strategy

You can save yourself some time and frustration if you plan your search strategy before you start looking for articles. It's like having a shopping list before going to the grocery store. Of course you may be fuzzy on some of these items to begin with, and that's OK. You can refine your search strategy as you go.

You may also want to keep a record of your search strategy (and the decision making that went into it), because having a record of what, where, and how you searched can help you replicate your search later or make modifications to improve your results.

What's in a search strategy?

  • A focused question, possibly in the PICO(T) format.
  • Search terms (consider both keywords and subject headings)
  • An idea about the types of evidence you are looking for (e.g. statistics, original research, personal experiences, etc.)
  • Where you'll search for that evidence - databases, search engines, individual websites, etc.
  • Filters/Limits you'll apply to your search
  • Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria - how you'll decide which articles, etc. you'll cite

For more about all of these elements, look at the boxes below and in the blue tabs on the left. 

Guiding Questions

If you're in the early stages of your project, you may not have a lot of firm answers to all of the search strategy elements. That means you're still in the exploratory phase. Here are some questions that could help you figure out where to go next.

  1. Are you familiar enough with your general topic to know what the important issues are?
    1. No? You may need to do more background reading. Try starting with sources like your textbook, the ASHA (or similar) website, or a knowledgeable faculty member. A quick, general search in the database could also be helpful to get a sense of the kinds of articles being published.
    2. Yes? You're ready to move onto the next question.
  2. What kinds of information are you looking for?
    1. Research? Expert opinion? Population data? Theory? Tests/Measures? - It may be a combination, but your answer could very well influence where you look.
    2. Do you need information about interventions? Diagnostic tools? Prognosis? That decision may shape the kinds of words you use to search for your topic.
    3. Another way to post this question: What would you perfect article look like? What topics would it include? 
  3. What kinds of information do you not want to find? This information can help you narrow your search terms and help you start thinking about how you will pick and choose among the articles you see.