What’s a Search Strategy?

May 2nd, 2013 by John Pell


Screenshot of a section of the massive Pubmed Bioethics Subset Search Strategy. Click the image to see more.


Can you describe your search strategy?

I don’t mean something like, “I type words in a box and a computer shows me things.” That’s a description of what we do sometimes when we search, but that’s not what I mean by a description of a search strategy.

What I mean by a search strategy is an approach to answering critical questions about the research process: What kind of information would help to answer the research question? How could that information be produced? Who would have an interest in producing that information? Where might that information be stored? How might the information be identified? How might different sources of information be combined to address the research question?

Mason Brown and I ask students taking our library research assignment to analyze and describe their search strategies for us in clear, natural language addressing questions like those listed above because we think that good critical thinking supports good research and clear communication supports success in collaborative environments.

We recently made a five-minute video in which we share some advice on developing strong search strategies for students working on our library research assignment. You can watch it here.

We welcome your thoughts.

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Posted in Library Instruction, Research

2 Responses to “What’s a Search Strategy?”

  1. common hunter college troll Says:

    “Where might that information be stored?” – well technically you do not store information, you store data.

  2. John Pell Says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Common Hunter College Troll!

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