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Planning your search

Before you begin searching, think about the words you need to use in your search. Spending five minutes at the start, and being systematic and organised, will save you having to re-run searches with words you've forgotten to use.

Step 1: Write our your search as a sentence

This is our example topic written out as a sentence:

The role of women in agricultural development in Africa

Step 2: Identify the important words and concepts

Translate your sentence into keywords. As most databases will search for exactly what you type in, you need to think of all possible synonyms (different words with the same meaning) and variant spellings. If you don't do this you might not find the most relevant articles.

The following example shows how our sentence has been broken down into keywords and grouped by concept. It shows how they relate to one other.

Concept 1 AND

Concept 2 AND

Concept 3

Women Agricultural
Woman Agriculture African
Gender [individual countries?]

The Search techniques page describes how to convert these keywords into an effective search.

Step 3: Think about ways you could limit your search

You might find too many references on your topic, so think about ways you could limit your search. Most databases will allow you to limit your search in these ways:

  • Date - do you only want items published after a certain date?
  • Language - do you only want references in English?
  • Geography - do you want information about a specific place or published in a particular country?
  • Type of publication - do you only want references to journal articles, books, or theses, for example. This might influence your choice of database.

The page on Search techniques has more information on limiting your search.

For help getting started, download a copy of our database searching plan (PDF).