Toolkit for Searching for Research Information
Step 1: Before You Search

Step 1: Before You Search

Key Points

  • Know what you are looking for before you start searching.
  • Ask yourself: What do I want to find?
  • Start with a general search and then make it more specific.

Start With A Goal

Before you start your search, have a clear idea of what it is you want to find. Choose keywords that will find the most relevant and useful resources. To do this, think about the ideal (or best) results you would like to find, and think of targeted or strong keywords. Identify the goal of your search by asking yourself: “What do I want to find?”  Knowing exactly what you are looking for will save you time in the long run.

General vs. Specific

You may need to start with a general search to get an idea of what kind of information is available, and then make the search more specific. Let’s work through the following scenario:

A client of yours is uncomfortable with vaccines. She read online that they cause autism. She asks for your professional opinion, and wants you to show her some reliable online resources.

  • First, try a general search: for example, vaccines autism (see search results).
  • To make this search more specific, you could add the word children to the search string: vaccines autism children (see search results).
  • Make this search even more detailed by looking for a specific vaccine, like MMR: MMR vaccine autism (see search results).

You can see that three different searches result in three different sets of results. The general search had the highest number of results, while the third search had the fewest. Knowing what you are looking for, before you start searching, will help you remove unwanted results and save you time.