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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Advanced Library Search Strategies

Learn how to search for articles, books, and other scholarly works through citation chasing and optimal keyword searching. This guide accompanies the Savvy Researcher workshop, "Advanced Library Search Strategies."

Search Strategies

Consider applying a strategy before you type your search terms into a database or search engine. Creating a strategy can help you:

  • identify the most relevant databases,
  • break down your search process into more manageable parts, and
  • help you search more efficiently.

This activity engages you with your research and encourages you to pay attention to the details of your search process. Ultimately, you will be able to maximize the amount and quality of relevant research you find.

Sample Strategies

  • Create a search journal or spreadsheet and break it down by database, search terms, and date.
  • If you use a citation management software, such as Zotero or Mendeley, you can attach notes to citations.
  • Consult subject thesauruses and documentation on searching offered by the database you are searching in.
  • Save searches in specific databases which allow you to create personal accounts.
  • Look up your research topic in our Library Guides and consult subject-specific librarians according to your college and major.

Documenting the Search Process

Whether you are searching in-person or online, in-depth research can greatly benefit from documentation. Documenting your search processes allows you to:

  • justify and record your actions and thoughts at various points during your research process
  • see how your search strategies change over time and how this affects your search results 

What to include in your documentation:

  • the names of the sources you searched (database, catalog, physical library location)
  • date you searched
  • any search limits you used (e.g. by author, by date, by content type, subject heading)
  • any search techniques you used (e.g. boolean modifiers or operators)
  • number of results
  • notes/comments

A citation manager allows you to collect and organize sources from your research. Use the note function to describe the database and search terms you used to find that article and the date you retrieved it.

Content and Source Identification

  1. Look through the Library Guides homepage to check for any guides that match your research topics and/or methods. LibGuides can be a great place to subject-specific databases.
  2. Identify the type of content you are looking for.
    • Do you need:
      • Background information?
      • Graphs, statistics, maps, media, conference proceedings?
      • Primary or secondary research, raw data?
  3. Locate databases based on your research topics and the type of resources you are looking for.
    • Consult our A-Z Databases list to find databases by subject, type (e.g. conference proceedings, media, maps/GIS, etc.), or vendor.
  4. For each database and resource you choose, become familiar with the features of the search engine to determine how its strengths and weaknesses may affect your search process.
    • Most databases have a 'Help' section or indexing documentation that describes how to navigate the database's functions and format search terms according to requirements.
    • Ask yourself:
      • "If I limit by author, do I have to format the author name in a specific way?"
      • "Can I select an option that tells the database to search for keywords and subject terms that are related to the terms I am searching?"
      • "Is this a subject-specific database? If so, which subjects and disciplines am I searching here?"