To create your search strategy according to your search strategy plan, first identify key words and phrases, then create your search strings.

Identify key words and concepts

Once you’ve summarised your topic, identify important words and phrases. These key search words should capture the main concepts of the topic.

To conduct a comprehensive search you will need to include synonyms, alternative words or spelling variations for each search word, as databases only look for the specific words provided in a search string. 

To develop an understanding of each concept and to find additional keywords use recommended readings and textbooks (My Unit Readings), dictionaries or encyclopaedias.

For example, with the topic "Does advertising encourage teenagers to take up smoking?", identify the main concepts, then list their synonyms.



  • marketing
  • media
  • promotion



  • adolescents
  • children
  • young adults
  • youth



  • cigarettes
  • tobacco
  • vaping

Create searches

Use search operators and Boolean operators to turn your key words into an effective search string. 

Search operators, like quotation marks and asterisks, allow you to search for entire phrases, or to search for a word plus additional letters. Boolean operators like AND and OR join search words together into concepts.

Boolean & Search operatorsFunction
"       "

keep words together as a phrase

Example: "young adult"


stemming or truncation (search for word plus additional letters)

Example: teen* will search for teen, teenager, teenagers


search for 2 or more words anywhere in document

Example: advertising AND teenagers


include one or the other word in document

Example: adolescents OR teenagers

Apply search operators

Look at your key words and concepts and apply the search operators to them. 




  • advertis*
  • marketing
  • media
  • promotion*



  • teen*
  • adolescen*
  • child*
  • "young adult*"
  • youth*



  • smok*
  • cigarette*
  • tobacco
  • vap*

Apply Boolean operators

Now use the Boolean operator OR to combine each column of key words.

For example:

(advertis* OR marketing OR media OR promotion*)

(teen* OR adolescen* OR child* OR "young adult*" OR youth*)

(smok* OR cigarette* OR  tobacco OR vap*)

Create a search string

Then, use the Boolean operator AND to combine these concepts into a search string.

For example:

(advertis* OR marketing OR media OR promotion*) AND (adolescen* OR child* OR "young adult*" OR youth*) AND (cigarette* OR tobacco OR vap*)

Once you have created a search string like the one above, you can begin to search for resources for your assignment.


Practice Creating a Search String

Identify search words

Pare back the words and add the truncation/stemming Boolean operator  *   e.g. develop*

Need help?

Librarians can help you with identifying key words and concepts and creating searches: Ask our Librarians.