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Health Research Guide: Search Strategies

A guide to help you getting started with your research for Nursing and Health Sciences.

Developing a search strategy

Are you not sure where to start with your assignment? Here are a few steps you can follow to gain a better understanding of your topic and to find keywords to use to start researching your topic.

Learn more about Library Search.

Here is a helpful document that will provide some guidance on how to develop keywords and on how to develop a search strategy using the keywords (esp. have a look at the example on page 2).

1. Analyse your topic

Consider the following:

  • The assignment question/task/topic
  • The objectives of your unit
  • The marking criteria for your unit

Further consider:

  • What are your task words/direction words (verbs that indicate what you have to do)?
  • What are your topic words/subject words (usually nouns that highlight the issues that you need to discuss)?
  • What are you limiting words like time, place and population; who is involved, where is the focus?

What other words can be used in place of your topic words? Explain the topic in your own words. What words do you use? Use a thesaurus to find other words.



1. Example (Analyse your topic)

Topic: “Discuss potential health promotion strategies in relation to reducing the incidence of smoking during pregnancy”.

  • Task word: discuss
  • Topic words: health promotion, promotion, smoking/smoke, pregnancy
  • Limiting words: women/woman, pregnancy

Read your assignment question/task/topic a few times to develop a good understanding and to identify all task, topic and limiting words.

Some additional topic words from

  • Smoking/smoke - cigarette, cigar, weed
  • Woman/women - female
  • Pregnancy - fertility
  • Promotion - advertisement, commercial, propaganda, publication

2. Brainstorm

Use your topic, your task, topic and limiting words and ask questions of your topic:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?
  • How?

This will give you a better understanding of your topic.It will also help you to get an idea of how you might want to structure your assignment.

Consider brainstorming with another student or a group of students.

Write your ideas on a piece of paper, map your ideas, use a brainstorming app.




2. Example (Brainstorm)

Who runs health promotion strategies in regards to smoking? Who is the target group?

What health promotion strategies exist?

When are women targeted with these promotional strategies? When should women be made aware of the risk of smoking during pregnancy?

Where are health promotion strategies promoted?

Why do we need these health promotion strategies?

How can these health promotion strategies be improved? How can the target group be reached?


3. Combine your search terms

Now that you have developed a good understanding of your topic and have found keywords it is time to search CDU Library through Library Search.

  • Use double quotation marks ("...") to search for a search term that consists of multiple words.
    • Example: "health promotion"
  • Use truncation to substitute possible endings of words with the symbol *.
    • Example: smok* - you will find information containing words like smoke, smoking, smoked, etc. 
  • Use the Boolean operators AND, OR and NOT to narrow or broaden your search.
    • Example:
    • smoking AND pregnancy - you will find information containing both search terms.
    • cigarette OR cigar - you will find information containing either or both search terms.
    • cigarette NOT cigar - you will find information on cigarette, but not on cigar.


3. Example (Combine your search terms)

Possible search term combinations for Library Search:

  • smoking pregnancy "health promotion"
  • smoking pregnancy commercial
  • "health propaganda" smoking women
  • "cigarettes NOT cigars" women pregnancy

Use your refinement options in Summon to restrict your results to 'full text online' and 'limit to articles from scholarly publications'.

Narrow down your search by narrowing down the date range.

Select 'Journal articles' or 'Books' to narrow down your search to specific media.


Where do I search? Benefits of various search tools.

If you have been asked to find academic, credible or peer reviewed information Library Search is a great place to start.


  • one place to find books, ebooks, journal articles, newspaper articles, theses, streaming video and much more
  • results can be filtered many ways - chose peer reviewed articles, full text online, narrow down by date range
  • advanced search allows easy combining of several search terms

Before doing anything uni related login to the portal - This makes it easier to access all your uni related tools with one sign in.

Books and eBooks are good academic sources of information. They give a thorough overview of a topic, are usually well researched and have undergone a stringent publication and editorial process. This does mean they can take a long time to be published.

If you know the EXACT title of the book, enclose it in quotation marks, e.g. "The road to social work and human service practice"

Use quotation marks around an EXACT phrase e.g. "mental health"

If you are looking for books on a topic use keywords, e.g. "mental health" AND "social work"

Find a physical book  Find an eBook?  

Library Search is a simple way to search for information resources, including journal articles. But sometimes you will need to use the additional, discipline-specific features provided by specialist databases to find the information that you need for your assignments.

  • Not all of the resources in specialist databases can be found using library search.

Subject-specific databases are ideal for searching the journal literature because they are tailored to a particular discipline, and therefore provide the ability to narrow your search in ways that wouldn't be possible in a general database or search tool like Library Search. They vary from each other on subject area, coverage, content types, geographical location, etc - so consider which database/s will be most likely to contain the kind of information you're looking for.

Sometimes a lecturer wants students to read a journal article that CDU Library doesn't have, or read a chapter of a book only available in print. It will be digitised and put into the Reading List for your unit, accessible via Learnline for students to read. If you can't find an article or book chapter in Library Search look in Reading List as it may be there.


Web Search Engines, like Google or DuckDuckGo can be used to find an overview of your topic, background information, keywords, similar terms or concepts, instructional videos and so much more, such as government and industry resources. Searching by keywords in Google will usually give a  huge number of results. 

Hints for searching in Google:

  1. try out Google advanced - add a site or domain, opt for search terms to appear "in the title of the page"
  2. use "..." around phrases
  3. if you want Australian statistics search the ABS site, or try adding after your search terms
  4. if you want something from an Australian Government site try adding after your search terms
  5. If you want something from an educational institution try adding after your search terms
  6. if you want a published report try adding filetype:pdf after your search terms

For more watch some videos on "Googling like a pro" or "search tips" in Google



Google Scholar can be a handy tool to use to find additional information such as: scholarly literature, some of which can be found in the library collection and some freely available; conference papers or theses.   

This tool will not search across the book and eBook collections at the library and may not give you full-text access to every journal article. You also cannot refine results by peer reviewed sources and may show articles that are published in predatory journals which have poor peer review and editing processes. If you're unsure if an article you find in scholar is from a peer reviewed journal check in Ulrich's Periodicals Directory or the Directory of Open Access Journals or Publons. 

On campus? - links will automatically show "full text @CDU" for CDU-subscribed articles. Open link in new tab.

Off campus - you need to change your settings so that Find it @ CDU links automatically appear within Google Scholar in your search results:

1. Click the three horizontal lines (top left) then go to Settings (the cog at the bottom of the list)

2. Click Library links

3. Type in Charles Darwin University and click the search button

4. Tick Charles Darwin University - Find it @ CDU

5. Click Save

To retain these settings, you must turn on cookies in your browser settings

If you send your citations to EndNote, under Bibliography Manager, select EndNote

Never cite or reference Wikipedia in an academic paper. However it can be a good place to start your search:

  • It's a good place to do background reading
  • It can help you discover further keywords to use for searching
  • You can find cited articles

Watch this video to learn the pros and cons of using Wikipedia.

You will need to evaluate the sources you find - are they suitable to use (and reference) in academic assignments?

Use these evaluation criteria to assess online resources:

Currency - when was the work published, is id out of date for the topic?
Relevance - is it detailed analysis, what is the readership level
Authority - who are the authors and their credentials- is it peer reviewed?
Accuracy - can you verity the source, are there other sources cited in the references?
Purpose - is there bias in the work, is there are particular perspective?

Charles Darwin University acknowledges the traditional custodians across the lands on which we live and work, and we pay our respects to Elders both past and present.
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